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Chelsea join Manchester United at Wembley
The first timers will have to do something they have never done before to lift the FA Cup
We were treated to two closely fought FA Cup semi-finals over the weekend as Manchester United required a 89th minute winner to beat Brighton 3-2 before Sam Kerr (who else) gave Chelsea a 1-0 win over Aston Villa complete with a very nervy finish.
The results set up an intriguing final on Sunday 14th May between Chelsea and Manchester United. Chelsea will be looking to lift their third consecutive FA Cup, a feat not achieved since Arsenal won four on the bounce between 2005 and 2008. Manchester United meanwhile will be hoping to win their first ever piece of silverware as a club although to do so, they will have to beat Chelsea for the first time in their history.
Manchester United 3 - Brighton 2
Brighton’s fourth manager of the season was thrown into the deep end as Melissa Phillips was tasked with trying to lead her new side to a first ever FA Cup final. Whilst avoiding relegation will surely actually be top of her to-do list, the performance of her Brighton team at Leigh Sports Village will have made her feel hopeful that they can do so.
For long portions of the match, it would have been hard to tell which of these teams was in contention for the league title and who was in a scrap at the bottom of the league. Brighton looked confident, using the pace of Katie Robinson and Elisabeth Terland to stretch United when they turned the ball over. Veatriki Sarri was on a strict man-marking job up against Ona Batlle as United were forced to try and make in-roads with long balls over the top.
There was a mismatch at fullback on both sides though: Chelsea loanee Jorja Fox had struggled with Leah Galton in the WSL meeting before the international break whilst Lucia Garcia looked to have the beating of Poppy Pattinson. Despite Mary Earps handing Brighton the lead literally in the first half, it was no surprise that it was Galton who managed to run across the Brighton defence for the equaliser at the start of the second.
Both teams threatened on the turnover but Alessia Russo was able to make the most of her opportunity when played through, only for Danielle Carter to capitalise on a Millie Turner mistake. The defensive errors for Manchester United will be concerning as they will require close to perfection in order not to let the season slip away from them. United have excelled by being one of the most defensively strong sides in England and, whilst Brighton have continually shown that they can score goals, the performance suggested that perhaps the nerves are creeping in.
Rachel Williams hauled her side over the line, and the delight of reaching a first ever domestic final will outweigh any concerns for now. But with a critical game against Arsenal on Wednesday, it will be crucial for United to take the euphoria from the win and channel it into not wobbling any further.
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Aston Villa 0 - Chelsea 1
The consensus after this match appeared to be that Aston Villa deserved to win it which seemed to stem more from wishful thinking for the narrative than what actually happened on the pitch. There was no doubt that Villa were much improved from their 3-0 loss to Chelsea prior to the international break where their performance was littered with errors. But Chelsea still created a number of good opportunities throughout the opening hour of the game, with Eve Perisset having a huge chance which she blazed over the bar and Jelena Cankovic hitting the post.
Aston Villa definitely had their moments with the speed and strength of Kirsty Hanson causing Perisset all sorts of problems. But with Rachel Daly well-marshalled by the makeshift centre-back pairing of Maren Mjelde and Magda Eriksson, the pockets of threat did not really lead to clear cut chances.
That did change after Chelsea scored. It was the partnership they have relied on all season - Guro Reiten crossing for Sam Kerr to head in - but special mention should be given to Cankovic and her quick feet to keep the ball alive in the area. Going behind seemed to kick Aston Villa up a level whilst Chelsea found themselves sitting further and further back.
Chelsea certainly had to find a way to weather the storm although even then Sam Kerr could and should have scored twice more on the counter. Villa had more good opportunities but none of them really fell to the clinical players who you would hope could finish them.
It was a tight match in the end with Villa understandably throwing everything at Chelsea to try and assail their one goal lead. Chelsea will have been disappointed not to find a way of controlling the match - it is a problem that has arisen for them repeatedly this season. But their performance was still more than competent enough to be entitled to a third consecutive Wembley final.