On Saturday, Manchester City Women wrestled the League Cup from Chelsea’s grip, ending the champions dominance on the domestic scene. The London side won the WSL and League Cup last season, while earlier this year, they claimed the FA Cup after beating Arsenal 3-0.
Not much hope was given to the blues at Plough Lane as an almost partisan crowd expected Chelsea to be walking home with the trophy. No one that is, apart from the City faithful, who turned up at the home of Wimbledon to produce one of their most magnificent displays of the season.
City had already lost three times to Chelsea, with two of those being heavy defeats. A horror show on Halloween saw the blues beaten 3-0 home, followed by a 4-0 thrashing just two weeks later as City’s woes continued. And, just a month ago, Chelsea inflicted City’s first WSL loss since that thrashing by beating the blues 1-0 at Kingsmeadow.
With such a record against Chelsea, it is little wonder that nobody outside the City camp gave the blues much hope of taking home the trophy. Indeed, the first few minutes saw the blues barely touch the ball and when they did, it was given straight back to Chelsea.
The blues looked shaky at the back and survived an early appeal for handball inside the penalty area, but the referee waved away any interest. It looked more accidental than anything, as the ball seemed to be struck at Alex Greenwood as City attempted to clear, rather than her trying to deliberately stop the ball with her hands.
But City gradually grew into the game and settled more on the ball, taking their time to try and pick their way through the Chelsea midfield and defence. However, when Lauren Hemp struck the post in the 22nd minute when it seemed easier to score, the faithful could be forgiven for thinking it won’t be City’s day. Hayley Raso played in Georgia Stanway down the right and her ball across the face of goal eluded in the Chelsea defence. Hemp lost her marker brilliantly but just couldn’t adjust her body quickly enough, and her shot cannoned off the post.
The rebound fell to Demi Stokes, who drove a shot towards goal, only for it to be stopped by the arms of Sophie Ingle. The midfielder’ hands were raised above her head as the ball struck them but, with the referee in a great position, shook her head at the penalty appeals again.
It was encouraging signs from City that they weren’t about to let Chelsea have everything their own way, yet when the London blues took the lead, there was an air of inevitability about the result. Stokes and Ellie Roebuck mixed up their communication in the 34th minute to gift Chelsea the lead. Roebuck went to claim Goru Reiten’s cross while Stokes went to head it away. It ended in a loose ball which Kerr swung a boot at it and the ball nestled into the bottom corner.
But City were no longer the same team that succumbed to Chelsea in that crazy two-week period in the autumn and, unlike so many teams this and last season, refused to bow down to the champions. And for once, Chelsea had no idea how to handle it.
City produced waves of attack in a second half that belonged fully to the blues. They pushed Chelsea back, limited their chances and restricted them in midfield, cutting off the supply line to Pernille Harder and co. And when they did manage to get the better of City’s defence, they found roebuck in much more confident form.
Happily for the blues, that was a rare occurrence as City turned the final firmly on its head in thirteen second half minutes. Within three minutes of the restart, the blues were level, and it was United’s tormentor-in-chief Caroline Weir that provided the platform for City to go on and win the trophy. But it was Stanway’s speed and vision that created it.
Collecting the ball on the right wing, Stanway evaded a half-hearted challenge and raced forward. With the Chelsea defence back-peddling, Stanway played a sublime pass to Weir between two Chelsea defenders. The Scotland midfielder was allowed time inside the penalty area to control the ball, before firing past Berger into the back of the goal. The striker hit the keeper on the way, but there was never going to be any stopping it.
To underline how much City wanted the trophy, Ellen White raced into the goal to retrieve the ball while the rest celebrated, only for Berger to hold onto it, such was the determination in the City ranks to get back into the action and finish the job.
White may not have got her way in getting the ball back, but she was soon sending Berger into the net again to retrieve the ball for a second time. Lauren Hemp took advantage of a loose ball and raced into the area. Her shot was parried by Berger, but only as far as White, who adjusted brilliantly to get her foot around the ball and hook it over the keeper and into the goal to put City in front.
It could have been so different though, had Roebuck not pulled off the save of the match minutes earlier. Kerr forced some space for herself before hitting a tame shot, or a terrible pass, that Greenwood blocked. The rebound fell to Niamh Charles, whose first-time shot was saved at full stretch by the diving Roebuck.
At 2-1, there was always a danger that Chelsea would come back into it, but it was City who continued to take the game to their opponents, and on 68 minutes, they made the game, and the collection of the trophy, complete.
A corner on the City left was headed across goal by Lucy Bronze, and a weak defensive header didn’t get enough distance to clear the penalty area, and Weir stormed in to hammer a left-foot volley into the top corner to make it 3-1, and send those travelling supporters behind the goal into blue moon heaven.
It was a stunning finish from Weir, who was left completely unmarked inside the penalty area and, after her recent performances against United, you can’t give someone of that quality time and space that Chelsea afforded her, either inside or outside the penalty area.
City had further chances to give Chelsea a hammering, but three was enough to secure the trophy. There was a sad yet quality moment at the lifting of the trophy as an injured Steph Houghton with her right leg in plaster, entered the pitch to lift the cup with White as City were crowned League Cup winners 2022.