The third gameweek of the Women’s Super League sees Chelsea travel up north to take on Manchester United in what is already going to be a huge fixture for the league standings. Chelsea have already tasted defeat to Arsenal so far this season, equalling their total amount of losses for the whole of the last campaign, and the Gunners will be hoping Emma Hayes’ side slip up at Leigh Sports Village on Sunday.
Marc Skinner has enjoyed a bright start to life back in the UK following his two-year stay in the US with Orlando Pride. He has guided his side to maximum points so far in their first two fixtures, scoring five goals and only conceding once. From their two opening victories, United have impressed and have shown signs that they can upset the establishment of the WSL and they will be hoping that they can exploit the same defensive frailties in Hayes’ Chelsea side that saw them beaten by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on the opening day of the season.
With five different scorers already this term, the former Birmingham City Women’s boss will be happy with the goal burden being shared across his squad, but he knows he will need players like forward Martha Thomas to contribute more frequently if they are to stake a claim on the title. Skinner will want his side to keep the same defensive organisation and discipline that has so far seen them remain pretty resolute, but he will have worked hard with his defenders as he'll know the dangers Chelsea’s attacking players, like Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr, can pose.
He will also be aware of how Hayes likes her side to attack in numbers and with intensity, so this weekend’s fixture will provide his defence with the perfect exercise to test their resilience.
As for the visitors, Hayes will be determined not to endure another setback having already lost once this season. She will be pleased with her side’s character to bounce back from the opening day defeat against Arsenal with a thumping 4-0 victory at home against Everton last time out, though. With the likes of Kirby and Kerr leading the line, whom Hayes has compared to Dwight York and Andy Cole, the 44-year-old knows that her side are always going to be in with a chance in any game because the quality that runs through her side speaks for itself having won the league title two years in a row.
Hayes will not allow her side to get carried away with their last result and she will have thoroughly studied the way Skinner’s United have approached their two opening victories. As we saw during her punditry work at Euro 2020, her preparation is incredibly detailed and she will have orchestrated plan to try and break down a tough defence, but she will also have worked on her defensive organisation to match her opponents. Ultimately, she knows if she does not manage her side to victory this weekend, they face being six points behind Arsenal if the Gunners are able to get the better of Gareth Taylor’s Manchester City this weekend. And it may be early in the season, but a six-point gap could have a damning effect for the Blues at the end of the season.
Manchester United are 7/2 to win, a draw is priced at 11/4 and for Chelsea to come out on top, Betfred are offering 8/13.