Lauren James scored a hat-trick as Chelsea regained their three-point advantage at the top of the Women’s Super League with a convincing victory over Manchester United.
James set the Blues on course for victory after just five minutes, peeling off her marker to find space before knocking the ball past Mary Earps at the back post.
Chelsea were in control against a United side who struggled to get going and James soon doubled their lead, expertly controlling a long Nathalie Bjorn delivery before thrashing home a first-time finish.
United failed to threaten the Chelsea goal as the hosts dominated the ball, but they were handed a lifeline when Hayley Ladd pulled one back before the break.
Ladd’s goal reinvigorated the visitors and they emerged from half-time with momentum in their favour as Ella Toone and Lucia Garcia both missed chances to draw the scores level.
But James punished United for failing to find a way back and she netted her third in the 85th minute after being found behind the United backline by a well-weighted Sjoeke Nusken through ball.
Defeat means the Red Devils are now 10 points behind Chelsea in the table, while the Blues are three points ahead of second-placed Arsenal.
James guides Chelsea to important victory
Emma Hayes’ side are chasing a fifth successive Women’s Super League title and they’re well on track to realise their ambitions.
It was once again the work of James – who leads the division’s scoring standings with 10 goals from 11 games – that helped them to victory as she intelligently ran behind the United defence and drew away defenders to open gaps for her team-mates.
Chelsea will be without the services of star striker Sam Kerr for the rest of the season after she suffered an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury, but their attacking prowess remained evident even in her absence.
James’ efforts resulted in all three goals but they were definitely not Chelsea’s only avenue of attack, with Johanna Rytting Kaneryd consistently getting the better of the United defenders as she cut inside from the right.
They were impressive in defence, too, even when United grew into the game, with Bjorn immediately slotting in well alongside Kadeisha Buchanan and looking assured at centre-back on her league debut after joining from Everton.
United fall even further behind
No team has won the Women’s Super League with more than two defeats across the season and United have suffered a potentially fatal third.
With Chelsea at the top of the table with a 10-point advantage over them, United’s chances of recovering ground in their remaining 11 games are slim.
While they eventually found their footing on Sunday afternoon, the length of time it took them to do so proved to be their undoing.
They were static in defence under Chelsea’s early periods of sustained pressure while they found themselves overrun on both wings.
Even after they gained a foothold, Chelsea showed their game management expertise and adapted their defence to nullify United, who attacked to no avail.
Toone had the ball snatched from her feet when she was one-on-one with Hampton, while Garcia flashed a free header wide of the far post.
This has been a difficult season for United with them exiting the Champions League in the second round of qualifying. Now league success looks out of reach too.
Manchester United Women
- 26BuchananSubstituted forCarterat 77′minutes
- 19Rytting Kaneryd
- 10JamesSubstituted forKirbyat 89′minutes
- 2FishelSubstituted forNüskenat 54′minutes
Man Utd Women
- 4Le Tissier
- 6BlundellSubstituted forEvansat 90+5′minutes
- 12LaddBooked at 50minsSubstituted forNaalsundat 69′minutes
- 17GarcíaSubstituted forParrisat 69′minutesBooked at 76mins
- 7TooneSubstituted forWilliamsat 81′minutes
- 23da Silva Ferreira
Match ends, Chelsea Women 3, Manchester United Women 1.
Second Half ends, Chelsea Women 3, Manchester United Women 1.
Attempt missed. Fran Kirby (Chelsea Women) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Niamh Charles.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match because of an injury Hannah Hampton (Chelsea Women).
Substitution, Manchester United Women. Gemma Evans replaces Hannah Blundell.
Attempt missed. Sjoeke Nüsken (Chelsea Women) right footed shot from the right side of the box is too high. Assisted by Fran Kirby.
Attempt saved. Lisa Naalsund (Manchester United Women) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by Leah Galton.
Attempt missed. Geyse Ferreira (Manchester United Women) right footed shot from outside the box is too high following a corner.
Attempt blocked. Rachel Williams (Manchester United Women) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Katie Zelem with a cross.
Corner, Manchester United Women. Conceded by Sjoeke Nüsken.
Hand ball by Erin Cuthbert (Chelsea Women).
Foul by Jess Carter (Chelsea Women).
Rachel Williams (Manchester United Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Chelsea Women. Fran Kirby replaces Lauren James.
Goal! Chelsea Women 3, Manchester United Women 1. Lauren James (Chelsea Women) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Sjoeke Nüsken with a headed pass following a fast break.
Offside, Chelsea Women. Sjoeke Nüsken is caught offside.
Foul by Guro Reiten (Chelsea Women).
Jayde Riviere (Manchester United Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Chelsea Women. Conceded by Nikita Parris.