Man United boss Marc Skinner insists they are ready to cause an upset in the Women’s FA Cup final
An FA Cup final between Manchester United and Chelsea hardly feels like a ‘David vs Goliath’ contest but when you look at the honours of both their women’s teams and managers — the favourite and the underdog is clear.
This afternoon will be a day of firsts for United. A first cup final, a first Wembley appearance and a first chance of silverware for manager Marc Skinner.
Chelsea and Emma Hayes have been here many times before. They have won 13 trophies in the last 11 years and victory over United will secure the FA Cup for the third year running.
United, who only re-formed in 2018, have never been a force in the women’s game. All that could change over the course of 90 minutes.
‘We are getting closer [to Chelsea]’ said Skinner. ‘There’s no doubt in my mind that if you want to pick a favourite, then Chelsea should be put on that mantle because of the fact they’ve been here before, they’ve done this before.
Man United boss Marc Skinner insists his side are ready to cause an upset in the FA Cup final
They face a formidable Chelsea side who have won the tournament for the past two seasons
‘But the reality is we have a team of rebels that want to make sure that might not be the fact.’
TODAY’S KEY BATTLES
Sam Kerr v Maya Le Tissier
Manchester United have the best defensive record in the WSL and centre back Le Tissier has been a standout performer. But the youngster will have her work cut-out keeping an experienced and in-form Kerr quiet. The striker has seven goals in seven games against United, including one in each league game this season. Kerr has been player of the match in the last two FA Cup finals, netting twice in each, and will again be the main goal threat.
Katie Zelem v Erin Cuthbert
Chelsea won the midfield battle in both league games this season despite United enjoying more of the ball. The Blues will look to play on the counter-attack and Cuthbert is key to Chelsea’s pressing style. United will have to be effective on and off the ball if they are to play around them. Zelem, who is returning from suspension, did not have her best game last time out against Chelsea — a 1-0 defeat in March — but the captain is experienced and is also key for set pieces.
Guro Reiten v Ona Batlle
The two leading players for assists in the WSL this season will come up against each other this afternoon. Batlle is the best full-back in the league by some distance and will look to get forward at every opportunity. But she will also have a job to do defensively in stopping left winger Reiten. The Norwegian, who has seven goals and 10 assists in the WSL, is having her best season for Chelsea and is a potential matchwinner.
Skinner was appointed United boss in 2021 after Casey Stoney resigned in frustration at the club’s slow progress in funding and facilities. His first season saw the club finish fourth, narrowly missing out on a place in Europe. This year has been the club’s best campaign by far.
United sit top of the Women’s Super League, though Chelsea will overhaul them if they win their game in-hand and have all-but secured Champions League football for the first time.
Skinner, though, has not always won over United’s vocal fanbase, who can be quick to criticise his tactics if results do not go their way. The 40-year-old admits he is constantly having to prove himself.
‘Always, I have to prove myself, that’s my job though. I don’t prove myself to anybody else but me.
‘I’m my own worst critic. If we don’t win something, then I don’t win. If you know me as a character and you actually know me as a person, I sacrifice a hell of a lot. I’m very team orientated. My job is to put everybody else on a platform so they can achieve. We’ve progressed, I’ve progressed. But I feel like being a good person is something I want to do in my life regardless of the job I’ve got.
‘I happen to be in a job where I’m criticised every day, I happen to be in a job where I’m supported every day. I’m human as well. Sometimes when I’m tired, I rant at something that I probably know nothing about. There’s other times where people are justified in their opinion.
‘But the reality is, if you’re working with us every day, you’d see someone that’s driven, someone that is harsh on themselves, supports their players when it’s difficult moments and challenges their players when it’s not difficult moments.’
This may be United’s first taste of a cup final but Skinner has been here once before. His Birmingham side were beaten 4-1 by Manchester City in 2017 and that experience has served as a vital learning curve.
‘What we got wrong at Birmingham, we made it a massive event, we made it bigger than it should have been,’ said Skinner.
United are enjoying a fine season, sitting top of the WSL and are in in their first major cup final
But Chelsea are a winning machine under Emma Hayes and are in superb form themselves
‘We made mistakes, that was naivety. We got quotes on the wall from players’ families and all that.
‘It became an emotional event rather than it being a real clear business event. You can celebrate afterwards if you win the cup and then you can be as emotional as you want.’
Chelsea are a winning machine under Hayes and come into this final, which is sold-out, in their best goal-scoring form of the season — with 6-0 and 7-0 victories over Leicester and Everton in the last seven days.
The Blues, who have been without Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder for most of the season, have at times looked laboured but have more often than not found a way to win.
A punchy Hayes claimed her team have been ‘written off quite easily’ but, in reality, their ability to win even when not at their best has only strengthened their trophy credentials.
‘We are feeling the best we have felt all season,’ said Hayes.
‘We’re always the best in our eyes. What’s important is the belief, the confidence and the trust internally.’