A great game ends in a draw that does neither side much good. City fail to pull away from Arsenal, while Chelsea’s faint hopes of defending their title are surely over.
Not that us neutrals mind: that was a very fun watch indeed, and fitting that Ji, the game’s standout player throughout, should have a decisive impact on the result. City, 2-0 up and coasting, won’t sleep easy tonight, not least because the usually lethal Parris had two glorious chances to extend their lead in the second half. But all in all, a draw is probably about right. That’s all from me. Cheerio!
93 mins: A frantic end-to-end finale here – City commit forward, give it away cheaply, and Chelsea launch a counter that they can’t quite turn into a chance. Either side could yet win this.
GOAL!! Manchester City 2-2 Chelsea (Ji)
Her again! Not exactly one for the highlight reel but it’s a vital goal. The South Korean hits a free-kick 20 yards out, it clips a shoulder in the City wall and sails in past a helpless Bardsley. Two-two – and while it’s a flukey goal, Ji deserves that.
85 mins: Chelsea look to be running out of ideas, repeatedly getting to the edge of the box but finding no way past a deep City defence. But then Cuthbert swings one in and, out of nothing, Kirby find the ball at her feet five yards out. She blams her strike low and hard, but it squirms wide via Bardsley’s shins.
82 mins: Cuthbert’s cross evades England by a matter of inches, Chelsea regather and work it back out to Cuthbert, who hits the byline and picks out Kirby on the penalty spot – but Kirby scuffs her volley badly wide. Really good chance. Chelsea have chucked Millie Bright up front now too. Kitchen sink time.
79 mins: A desperate scramble in the Man City box as Ji’s goalbound shot is blocked by a prone Beattie, a followup is smothered and Bachmann’s lofted third attempt sails over.
76 mins: Emma Hayes shuffles her back again, sending on Bachmann for Ingle. Nick Cushing responds by readying Lauren Hemp.
75 mins: Chelsea continue to attack with intent, Spence seeing a shot charged down on the edge of the box. Bright climbs to meet the resulting corner but can’t direct her header on target.
72 mins: Another wonderful chance for Parris! In fact, it’s pretty much the same chance, missed in pretty much the same way. Released through the inside right, she sprints clear, steadies herself, … and guides a low strike just wide of the far post.
69 mins: Bardsley follows the example of her opposite number by putting the wind up her fans with some perilous passing in her six-yard box. An alert Kirby can’t quite capitalise. Nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned long clearance, guys.
65 mins: Normal service resumes – Chelsea probing forward, City sitting back in the backs-to-the-wall manner and whacking hopeful long balls in the vague direction of Parris whenever possible. Lindahl rushes out to cut out one such pass, arriving a split-second ahead of the striker.
63 mins: The first change for Chelsea, Carney making way for Fran Kirby.
59 mins: Parris misses a golden chance to all but wrap up the win, released on the counter after a seemingly endless period of Chelsea pressure. Parris is played clean through by a long ball over the top, outsprints her marker and, as Lindahl comes out to meet her, picks out the bottom-left corner. But her shot trickles just wide!
56 mins: Chelsea are turning the screw, pinning City into their own box. A couple of imprecise final balls mean they haven’t yet translated this spell of pressure into a clear chance, but you feel there’s one coming. This is a quietly terrific game.
54 mins: A great spin on halfway by Ji sets Chelsea off on another attack. Ingle picks out England making a great run forward but the striker can’t quite keep her cut-back in play.
GOAL!! Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea (Ji)
She’s been Chelsea’s chief threat all afternoon and Ji duly provides the goal to get her side back into the match. Again it’s England heavily involved, escaping into the area and seeing her shot charged down. The South Korean is first to react, drilling in from close range inside a crowded box. It’s the goal we wanted. Game on.
47 mins: A manic start to the second half. Chelsea race out of the blocks quickly, England steaming clear and seeing her shot saved by Bardsley, before City take off down the other head, Parris squares for Weir and Lindahl – a liability through the first half – makes a truly magnificent save, clawing the ball on to the post despite being wrongfooted by the shot.
The teams are back out – no chances for either side – and the second half is under way.
A mighty fun half, that. Both teams have showed plenty of ambition going forward and no shortage of incompetence at the back. City set the tone in the opening minutes, when Stokes’ careless backpass gave City the game’s first clear chance. That same scenario played out a few more times at the other end, Lindahl invariably the guilty party, and Wullaert’s crisply taken opener was also the result of a defensive mishap, Bright giving the ball away under little pressure.
Stanway’s goal was the half’s standout moment – a wonderful guided drive – and at the other end Chelsea look dangerous whenever they get the tricky Ji on the ball. The problem for them now is that they essentially need three goals in the second half, a task that will leave them open to being picked off by a smart attack led by division’s deadliest striker. Nikita Parris has been lurking on the fringes so far but will have been licking her lips at the chances being dished out by Chelsea’s defence.
46 mins: Lindahl again! Another tippy-tappy attempt at playing it out from the back, another skewed pass from the keeper, and another clearcut City chance. This time it’s Parris who is presented with the ball by the Chelsea keeper, but her early shot from a fast-narrowing angle can only find the side-netting. And that’s half-time.
45 mins: A sloppy backpass from Houghton evades Bardsley and goes out for a corner. Chelsea don’t make it count though, Bardsley eventually collecting. Then Ji – at the heart of all Chelsea’s best moves – finds Blundell with a clever pass but the onrushing full-back miscontrols.
40 mins: Millie Bright prevents it becoming three with a last-ditch tackle on Parris, just as the striker is preparing to pull the trigger. Again the chance stemmed from a woeful pass from Lindahl, who’d be well advised to go for a no-nonsense hoof next time.
39 mins: Stanway fires over from range after some alarmingly casual distribution from Lindahl gifts her the ball in a good position.
35 mins: Insight klaxon: the next goal here will be crucial. And it could go either way. Chelsea have regained their composure and are pressing forward with purpose, but City have already scored twice from quick breaks, and Parris – quiet so far – is always a threat.
30 mins: Chelsea need something before half-time to avoid this petering out into a routine win. And they duly show some spark: Ingle sprays wide to Carney, whose whipped cross is half cleared. Ji picks up the loose ball, wriggles into some nonexistent space with a wonderful bit of skill and fires a low shot just too close to Bardsley. That’s more like it.
GOAL! Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea (Stanway)
Beautiful goal. Some terrific hold-up play from Scott, who collects a lofted pass with her back to goal and lays off to Stanway on the edge of the box. She dispatches a delightfully measured first-time finish, the ball steered just out of Lindahl’s reach and in off the far post. Two-nil.
21 mins: Lindahl called into action as Beattie dives to meet Weir’s floated free-kick with a powerful close-range. header. The City keeper palms it away instinctively – great save. Chelsea under the cosh here.
17 mins: Spence is carded for a heavy, angry tackle in midfield. Then Stanway find some space on the left and tests Lindahl from an angle. Corner.
15 mins: That goal has transformed the game. City are suddenly playing keep-ball in the Chelsea half, the visitors struggling to make it stick up front.
GOAL! Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea (Wullaert)
And so, inevitably, City take the lead. Seconds after Weir wastes a good chance on the break, Wullaert nicks the ball in midfield, drives forward through and makes no mistake with her finish, rifling home to end a no-nonsense counter. That’s a gutpunch to Chelsea, who have been all over City and should really be in front.
10 mins: Chelsea have started with real intent, full of crisp passing and barely giving City a touch.
8 mins: Beth England gathers the ball on halfway, turns smartly and storms to the edge of the box. She gets a shot away, low and hard, but it’s straight at Bardsley.
6 mins: Parris, streaking clear on the counter, is hacked down by Brighton who receives a booking. Weir’s left-foot free-kick is tame, though, gathered easily by Lindahl.
4 mins: Chelsea keep City hammed into their own half, Ji cutting out a wild clearance and winning a free-kick. The ball falls to Stokes, whose shoddy backpass presents England with a glorious chance. Bardsley is quick off her line to smother and saves the day. Lucky escape for City.
2 mins: Chelsea settle in with an extended spell of composed possession. Carney escapes down the left, spins her marker and wins a corner. Good start from the visitors.
The teams are out. Game faces are fixed firmly on as the sides march on to the field under a grey Mancunian sky. Some perfunctory handshakes, a quick huddle for each team … and we’re off.
Emma Hayes: “There’s no hiding, we have to win the game today. On some level, I prefer that. It will all be about a win, but we can’t just throw all our bodies forward immediately. If we execute our plan, I don’t see why we can’t come away with three points today.”
Chelsea absolutely need to take the points today if they have any chance of defending their title. With five games to go, they are six points behind leaders City. Victory here would put them back in the picture and make it a three-horses race head into the final straight. A City win would all but consign Emma Hates’ team to a trophyless campaign.
Man City manager Nick Cushing on leading the table: “I don’t feel it is [a different mindset when you’re top]. Ultimately it’s about preparing for the next game, whether you’re chasing or you’re leading. We led in 2016 and we won the league and we led last year and we didn’t. We’ve been in both positions and I think the key thing for us is having been through that learning process.
“The players have been through the process of winning it and being ecstatic and losing it and being really down. We’re in a good mentality at the minute.
“For us the main thing is to get the points in the bag. If you offered me games in hand or points, I’d always take the points.”
Manchester City: Bardsley, Stokes, Beattie, Houghton, Bonner, Walsh, Scott, Weir, Wullaert, Stanway, Parris.
Subs: Roebuck, Morgan, Campbell, Emslie, Hemp, Bremer, Beckie.
Chelsea: Lindahl, Blundell, Bright, Ingle, Carney, Ji, England, Eriksson, Andersson, Cuthbert, Spence.
Subs: Berger, Asante, Carter, Riley, Cooper, Bachmann, Kirby
After seeing their WSL title snatched from them by Chelsea last season, Manchester City have responded with a dead-eyed determination to reclaim their throne. Fourteen games in, Nick Cushing’s side sit atop the table, proudly unbeaten.
And with second-placed Arsenal having been granted the weekend off, this afternoon marks a chance for Cushing’s side to put some real daylight between them and their nearest rivals: a win here would put them four points clear, albeit having played two games more.
And just to add extra spice, City knocked Chelsea out of the Continental Cup on Wednesday with a 2-0 victory on enemy territory. The result will have further raised the spirits of today’s hosts – and given Emma Hayes’ team some strong cause for payback.
This fixture features all of the division’s three top scorers: after 14 games, City’s Nikita Parris – scorer of both in midweek – and Georgia Stanway lead the way with 12 and 10 respectively, Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert their closest challenger with six. Yet it also puts the two meanest defences up against each other, with the two teams having only conceded 17 between them. So it’s a case of unstoppable force vs immovable object at both ends of the pitch.