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Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United: Flat start and missed opportunities see Reds fall again to Blues

Chelsea FC v Manchester United - Barclays Women´s Super League Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Manchester United fell to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Emma Hayes’ Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, falling further behind in the Champions League race.

The result wasn’t a huge surprise but it came on the back of the criticism Marc Skinner received following his comments about summer signing Lisa Naalsund, who was on the bench at the Bridge.

The 5-0 win over Newcastle United in the FA Cup last week was a very encouraging one and United came into the game with momentum.

The back seven remained the same as the Magpies game, as Mary Earps started in goal and the back four of Hannah Blundell, Maya le Tissier, Millie Turner, and the impressive Jayde Riviere kept their place. Katie Zelem and Hayley Ladd also held their places in midfield.

The only change from the Newcastle game was the inclusion of Leah Galton, who took the place of Nikita Parris, as she dropped to the bench.

United’s start to the game was poor. The Reds were caught on the break in the 4th minute and Chelsea were calm in the final third, leading to ex-Red Lauren James finishing with her side foot to hand the Blues a lead.

Five minutes later, James had a chance to get another. Chelsea quickly passed through the United midfield without much discomfort and James’ run inside was picked out perfectly, but the defender’s shot was just wide of Mary Earps’ goal.

Chelsea made constant inroads into the United terribly, carving through the press easily. A well-constructed move in the 16th minute saw Guro Reiten’s pass inside get cleared, but it fell to Erin Cuthbert at the edge of the box but her shot flew wide of goal.

But minutes later, it was James who doubled United’s lead. A beautiful pass over the top by Nathalie Bjorn picked out James in behind and the English star finished calmly into the bottom corner, beating Mary Earps easily.

United’s attack looked toothless and their pressing approach looked ineffective, as Chelsea played through them with ease.

Left-back Niamh Charles nearly made it three at the 30-minute mark. Johanna Rytting Kaneryd’s pass from the right side of the box picked out Charles’ run down the left, but her first-time shot was put wide of Earps’ goal. It was a golden chance for Chelsea to all but seal the deal within the first half hour.

United’s first attempt of the game came in the 37th minute and it probably wasn’t even a shot. Geyse made a good run down the right and from an acute angle, she tested Hannah Hampton, who parried it well.

United grew into the game soon, picking up loose balls and winning it back from Chelsea more often. Hayley Ladd had set up a chance for Lucia Garcia, who had shot right at Hampton but the English midfielder pulled one back for the Reds in the 43rd minute.

The goal came through Geyse’s brilliant work on the right. She took on three players on the right, dazzled past one, and played a pass inside and after an initial shot was blocked, Ladd smacked her effort into the roof of the net in what was a well-deserved United goal.

The 2nd half started brightly for United and they nearly equalised, as Toone did find herself through but she couldn’t get a shot away.

The Reds’ biggest chance came in the 59th minute and it came on the break. Galton set Garcia through but the Spaniard could not get a shot away in time and played it in for Galton, who couldn’t get to it in time for a shot and after a scuffle, it fell to Ladd and her shot was blocked brilliantly as it seemed like a certain goal for a second. It was United’s best chance at scoring, by far. Better awareness could have led to a better outcome.

Chelsea had a great chance to make it 3-1 in the 65th minute, as a free kick from the far side saw Bjorn’s header get saved by Earps, and United survived.

United had a very valid penalty shout in the 76th minute and controversially enough, it was turned down.

An Ashley Lawrence error saw Galton latch onto the ball and run past the Canadian into the box. Lawrence seemed to have brought down the United winger and despite the referee having a clear view, United were denied a spot kick.

As the script would have it, it was James who sealed all three points for Chelsea. After being put through by a fine Kaneryd header, James found her through and after a couple of touches, she put it easily past Earps to bring up her hat trick and to seal the deal for the Blues against her former club.

Chelsea remained at the top ahead of their upcoming game against Real Madrid. United meanwhile, stayed four points away from a Champions League spot and at risk of falling to fifth, depending on Liverpool’s result against Manchester City.