Chelsea Women were handed a disappointing defeat by Manchester City in the Conti Cup final this past weekend. Chelsea had won this trophy in the previous two seasons but couldn’t make it three in a row.
On an evening where Chelsea lacked key personnel like Fran Kirby, Erin Cuthbert and Jessie Fleming, a diminished squad couldn’t muster the energy and sharpness needed to overcome a resurgent Manchester City in the second half.
Chelsea and City battled it out in the first half with both teams looking to press the other high up the pitch. Both teams showed great intensity but Chelsea were able to create opportunities to set Sam Kerr free behind the City high line. However, Chelsea uncharacteristically lacked the quality needed to hurt City.
When City had the ball, they often tried to patiently build play rather than trying to release players down the channels like Chelsea. Chelsea pressed up high with great intensity and effectiveness and didn’t allow City easy access to the middle and final thirds of the pitch. But Chelsea didn’t find the incision or sharpness to retain the ball in the final third with attacks falling apart within a few passes of recovering the ball — despite having quite a few opportunities to hurt City by recovering the ball in and around their box.
The quality and execution was lacking across the pitch. Ingle in particular looked labored and was unable to execute the deadly slide rule passes in transition and in the final third that she is famous for. Perhaps the lack of numbers in midfield that has led to a much increased workload for her is catching up. Jess Carter and Niamh Charles, for all their defensive intensity, lack the creativity or passing ability/variety of Cuthbert, Fleming or Kirby, all three of whom have played in that right wing position very successfully in Chelsea’s much more coherent 4-4-2 system.
Halfway into the first half, Hemp rattled the post after getting the better of Jess Carter and switching play. Carter has often come on top in recent encounters in this duel, but was comprehensively outdone in on the day. Chelsea were able to bounce back from Hemp’s close shave, but we couldn’t muster the same in the second half.
Fifteen minutes after Hemp’s chance, Chelsea managed to make a foray into the City box count. After Harder was found in space behind the City right back, she dribbled her way into the box but couldn’t put a ball in. The resulting clearance from center back Kennedy fell to Andersson, who found Reiten in acres of space. Reiten then put in a floaty cross for Sam Kerr to attack at the back post. The City goalkeeper’s weak punch fell kindly to Kerr who finished the chance with a lovely swivel and shot into the corner.
Chelsea went into the break in control of the game but things only went downhill from that point. City were able to find ways out of a waning Chelsea press more often and they finally found their touch in the final third as well.
And with Chelsea temporarily shorthanded due to Charles receiving treatment after colliding with the advertising boards, City found an easy way into the Chelsea final third. Stanway dribbled into the box after beating Ji near the touchline and put in a great ball for Caroline Weir, whose sidefoot finish beat Ann Katrin Berger to level scores.
City now had the momentum in the game and were looking more and more threatening. Where in the first half Lucy Bronze was not in the game, she was now able to receive under pressure and turn and get at the Chelsea midfield and defense far more often. Ten minutes after the first goal, Lauren Hemp’s low drive from the left wing was turned into Ellen White’s path by Berger, and the City captain put the ball into the net.
For the first time this season, in the fourth game between the two sides, City had taken the lead.
After that, Chelsea couldn’t find any footing. Hayes made a number of changes to try and shift the game’s flow but they were to no avail. Once City scored their third from an excellent corner routine, Chelsea were done. Hayes gave full credit to Manchester City for their win and City were well worth it.
Hopefully, this final will serve as a learning experience to the younger players in the squad, especially the likes of Nouwen, Charles and James.
Chelsea will now look to bounce back quickly as a spate of fixtures beckons in the WSL. Chelsea are currently 8 points behind Arsenal with 3 games in hand. Winning all three will put us on top of the league for the first time this season. However, all three games will come thick and fast and if the players who missed the final can’t return in time, it will be a big challenge to manage the workload.