Women’s FA Cup final roundtable: How Chelsea vs. Man City will play out
It’s almost fitting that the Women’s FA Cup final will see Manchester City and Chelsea do battle again. The two sides already faced off in the Continental Cup final in March, and they’ve each been on quite the run of form — City have won their last 13 games and Chelsea their last 11 coming into Sunday’s showdown.
While City won 3-1 the Conti Cup, they couldn’t catch Chelsea as Chelsea took the title .. But who will win the FA Cup?
ESPN’s Tom Hamilton and Kathleen McNamee take a look ahead at the match and make predictions about what might happen.
Coming into the game, which head-to-head battle is most interesting?
Hamilton: It’ll be fascinating to see how Chelsea deal with the threat of Lauren Hemp. She has five goals in five games across all competitions for City in a forward lineup including Ellen White and Khadija Shaw, who are both also on fire. Chelsea’s 3-5-2 formation means it’ll be a combination of Jess Carter and Niamh Charles, who’ll be marshalling Hemp on that side of the pitch, while Erin Cuthbert and Millie Bright will also be on hand to nullify that threat.
McNamee: I’m excited to see the impact that both midfields have. Man City and Chelsea have a lot of talented scorers, but I believe the midfield is an area that both teams have looked at to help them through difficult times. I’ll be curious to see how the likes of Caroline Weir and Georgia Stanway face up to Chelsea’s Ji Soyun and Cuthbert.
O’Halloran: There are any number of possible answers to this, but for me it’s Lucy Bronze vs. Jonna Andersson/Guro Reiten. The second-half turnaround in March’s Conti Cup win over Chelsea was led by the England international. Although initially nullified in the first half, Bronze was able move forward and create space in the second period. This allowed City’s dynamic front three to cause serious damage. It will be interesting for Chelsea to keep her quiet. Bronze will be busy in defense, too.
Lawson: It’s a bit of a cop-out, but for me it’s about the general wrestling for possession and how the press/counter-press plays out throughout the match — so it ends up being team vs. team rather than player vs. player. Considering how far Carter has come in the season, I think it will be a fun match between Hemp and Carter.
Why won’t this be a repeat of Man City’s Conti Cup win?
Hamilton: City had come out of their tricky spell while Chelsea were still in the midst of an injury crisis when the two met. Emma Hayes’ Chelsea were without Cuthbert (who is indispensable in their system), the brilliant Fran Kirby, nor Jessie Fleming in March. Although Kirby is doubtful for the weekend, the other players are firing.
There’s also an additional emotional side to this match for Chelsea — the likes of Soyun and Drew Spence will be leaving at the end of the season and they’ll want to give them a great send off. They’re probably playing better than they were last season, from a City perspective.
McNamee: Both sides were at very different stages of their season when City beat Chelsea. City will be hoping to prove they are better than third-place. The London side will have been buoyed after their WSL win on day three. City will face a Chelsea side that is more difficult than they were in the Conti Cup. They have also suffered a league loss to them since then.
O’Halloran: Both sides are in white-hot form — Chelsea have been flawless over the last 11 games in all competitions since that Conti Cup final defeat, while City’s winning streak stems even further back than that. Both sides lost their last match to each other. It’s difficult to pick a clear winner, let alone one that is within a two-goal margin.
Lawson: Chelsea, and particularly Hayes, have a bit of a, “fool me once …” mentality — and for the way Man City fought back in what is, basically, Chelsea’s back garden, I just can’t see the Blues not looking for some degree of revenge. At the very least, I can easily imagine Hayes sticking Sophie Ingle on Weir to nullify the Scot’s ability to dictate City’s attack.
Which side needs the win the most?
Hamilton: For City, a victory here will complete a domestic cup Double and add a lighter shade of blue to the English season. If City win the FA Cup final on Sunday it will be a major victory and a sign that they are serious about next season. It would be their third consecutive triumph in four years.
This would consolidate their dominance and complete a back-toback league and FA Cup double. They would be the team to beat going into next season, with an eye on transferring their domestic sweep onto the European stage. Only three other teams have attempted the WSL/FA Cup Double, proving how difficult it is. City needs to win the Cup more than Chelsea if they want to be victorious in the next term.
McNamee: A win for Chelsea would assert their dominance in the English game, while a win for City would show that they have recovered from their early season difficulties. A City win would show that there was progress for that team after their two defeats to Chelsea in league. It would also demonstrate that the Conti Cup win was not a one-off win.
O’Halloran: When the talk of legacy comes up, it’s hard to look past Chelsea. After this year’s disappointing Champions League group stage exit, a domestic double would keep West London’s good times rolling. Hayes’ Chelsea is here to build a dynasty. Two cup final defeats against City in one season would really hurt.
Lawson: It’s close but it’s got to be City who need this more. Chelsea have just claimed their third successive league title and have been the better team in the Champions League over the last couple of seasons; across the board, since their lone league title (in 2016) City have lost ground. With three FA Cup final wins and Man City never losing in the final, City will have a huge mental boost going into next season.
Both sides have experienced ups-and-downs – will that be a factor?
Hamilton: Both teams have suffered spells of upheaval during this term. Emma Hayes highlighted this by listing the absentees due to illness or injury before their final WSL match. Their Champions League campaign ended abruptly in January due to a chaotic spell. However, they managed their league work and will be able to compete on Sunday.
For City, their dodgy spell came before Christmas as they dropped 11 points in six matches with the likes of Steph Houghton, Ellie Roebuck, Bronze and Chloe Kelly all absent. They, too, weathered that spell to finish the season with 13 straight wins and after a season where squad depth was tested, expect both teams to go all-out on Sunday.
McNamee: I don’t think the turbulence for either side will factor massively as City have recovered from their injury patch incredibly well while Chelsea have shown they have the mental strength to grind out wins despite happenings in the boardroom. Although Chelsea may have had a harder time lately, their bench depth should help them.
O’Halloran: I’m not sure it will. Hayes has spoken numerous times about how he is growing into the season and reaching peak performance at the business end. City’s early season woes were caused by a series of injuries. Both sides are playing at an excellent level and seem to have put past problems behind them.
Lawson: With the tailspin Manchester City were in at the start of the start of the season, which included conceding seven unanswered goals at home to Chelsea over two fixtures in the space of a fortnight, the team will be determined to show they’re still one of the best sides in England and while Chelsea will want revenge for the Conti Cup final, City will feel they have a score to settle, too.
Let’s talk MVPs: Which player is key for each team?
Hamilton: After her remarkable goal-scoring double at the weekend, all Chelsea eyes will be on superstar Sam Kerr. Her goals against Manchester United were remarkable and confirmed why she is one the best players in the world. Chelsea’s match with Chelsea was changed by Ji on Sunday. Her introduction at half-time allowed Chelsea to push higher and she to dictate the pace. Although she may not be able to start, she is an integral part of the squad.
For City has enjoyed another great season and scored twice in their Conti Cup victory in March. She is essential to everything they do, and they will need her to be on fire to beat Chelsea.
McNamee: Hemp has been absolutely crucial to Man City’s success this season, particularly when they were going through a rough patch. Chelsea was astonished by Ji’s impact on the game. She made it possible for Chelsea to win against Man United. Chelsea will be hoping Kerr can recreate her big game magic.
O’Halloran: Weir arrives in big matches time and again for City, and she will need to do the same on Sunday. Gareth Taylor’s team won the Conti Cup with a brace. She should have had a golden chance against Chelsea a few weeks before. Chelsea will have to be on the lookout for her shooting boots if she brings them.
Lawson: The cliche is that good defences win you titles but, for me at least, cup finals are all about the attackers, especially when you have two of the best in the country in the match. Kerr is the obvious choice. She’s a big player for such a big event and she’s in great goal-scoring form. However, she also does a lot off the ball defensive work which could prove vital.
So, final predictions: Who wins and who scores?
Hamilton: I’m going for a Chelsea win. It will be closer than the FA Cup final in which Chelsea beat Arsenal 4-0. I can also see Kerr scoring two goals from a set piece. Although Shaw and Weir will be on the scoresheet for City, it won’t stop Hayes’ team from a 3-2 win.
McNamee: I think it will be close between the sides, but I see Chelsea having the edge. Although their wins have not been spectacular, Hayes and her team know how to keep it going when things get tough. It won’t be a goal fest, probably around 2-1, with Kerr and Hemp on the Man City scoresheet.
O’Halloran: Chelsea will be slight favourites, but City have shown before they are up to the task. I’ll be neutral and say it will be close. Kerr is the star power that will win the match for Chelsea, who won 2-1.
Lawson: There’s usually a lot of goals on show when the two sides meet, so maybe the better question is: who won’t score? Bright, Ellen White, Kerr and Hemp getting cheeky ones. And probably someone with a worldie… endless goals, complete chaos. It could be 3-0, or it could be an elimination shoot-out. I can’t predict how it will turn out, but I can say City to win. narrowly.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.