Manchester United’s run in the Conti Cup came to an end in the semi-finals, following their 3-1 defeat to Chelsea at Kingsmeadow in London.
United came into the game with the confidence of having beaten one of the favourites in Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the competition and they hadn’t lost a single game in all competitions since the loss to the Gunners themselves back in November. But in a largely disappointing performance, Marc Skinner’s girls were ousted by Emma Hayes’ Chelsea.
No new signings started for United, as Skinner’s side lined up in the customary 4-3-3, with Leah Galton, Alessia Russo and Scot Martha Thomas starting upfront. Jackie Groener, Vilde Boe Risa and creator Katie Zelem started in midfield, as Hayley Ladd was suspended from the previous game.
The absences of Ladd and Ella Toone were constantly felt during the game, as United found themselves ragged in midfield and couldn’t create too many chances in front of goal either.
Chelsea looked really good value for money from the offset, as their quick passing and movement in the final third caused issues for United. Pernile Harder could’ve handed a lead early on, if not for Maria Thorisdottir’s interception after a flowing move from the Blues from the right side of their attack.
United looked to rely on movement in the final third but Chelsea’s pressing from the front disallowed them to build effectively, forcing Thomas to make runs in-behind for Sophie Baggaley to play her in. In a decent spell for United, Thomas slightly miscontrolled a terrific long-ball from the United stopper and she had a headed effort go right at the keeper.
After United’s strong spell, Chelsea broke through on the transition after Harder was set through on goal. She had to fend off pressure from both Baggaley and Aoife Mannion to tap home from close range.
Five minutes later, Chelsea doubled the lead when Zelem was recovering from a head injury on the touchline. A scramble in the box led to Jessie Fleming heading in from close range, while being unmarked by the United defenders.
Soon enough, United got themselves back into the tie and it came via flashes of brilliant football. Groenen’s excellent backheel gave some space for Boe Risa on the edge of the box on the left. Despite shooting from a tight angle, Boe Risa beat Zecira Musovic.
But hopes of a United revival went away as an unlikely goalscorer in Jessica Carter made a late run into the box to be at the receiving end of a cross from Guro Reiten.
A cagey and competitive second-half display was followed by a chance from Russo to go wide. Zelem’s cross causes problems for Chelsea, who failed to clear it and Russo had her shot skim wide.
Deadline day signing Signe Bruun did make her debut soon enough for United, for whom things went worse. Sam Kerr had a 1v1 chance but Baggeley brought her down outside the box, denying a goalscoring opportunity for the Australian. The United stopper was sent off and Harder’s free-kick came off the wall.
Despite the disappointing performance, it was another reminder of Ladd’s importance to the side and how she helps in stamping control over games on and off the ball. In the final of the Conti Cup, Chelsea will take on the winner of the second semi-final involving Tottenham and Manchester City.