“I just love those games [against Manchester City]. Every manager enjoys certain types of games…There’s zero to separate [us] year on year. I really respect them as a football club and what they’ve done for women’s football.”
On the eve of the 2022 Continental Cup Final, Emma Hayes was relishing the latest meeting between her Chelsea side and their close rivals, Manchester City. Despite all their battles over the last few years, this will in fact be the first time these two sides have met in a major final, with their semi-final meetings infamous at this stage.
Off the pitch news has dominated the club this week but Hayes’ side will be looking to shut out the noise in front of a sell-out crowd at Plough Lane. Chelsea are the competition’s current holders, and they will be seeking to lift the trophy for the third consecutive time.
Manchester City have recently hit a sweet spot of form after a tricky first half of the season. They have lost one in their last 12 in all competitions (the loss incidentally was a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea at the start of February), rising to fifth in the Barclays FAWSL. An appearance in their fourth League Cup Final on Saturday afternoon provides them with the chance to get a hand on their first silverware since 2020.
Pre-match manager Gareth Taylor expressed his enthusiasm for the challenge while also stating that it means nothing if his team doesn’t come away with victory: “Everyone’s really looking forward to it. I think Cup finals are a great achievement; everybody wants to be there and be able to play their part. But obviously, I think you only really remember them if you win them…I think it means nothing if we don’t get there and win the trophy.”
After high-profile absentees for both sides, both teams have come somewhat closer to full fitness in recent weeks.
Chelsea will welcome back captain, Magdalena Eriksson, who picked up an injury in her side’s UWCL game against Wolfsburg before Christmas. Maren Mjelde will also be on the bench, although Hayes had little expectation that she would feature this weekend. The Blues have two absentees – Erin Cuthbert and Melanie Leupolz.
The biggest loss for Manchester City will be that of their captain, Steph Houghton, who has been ruled out for the rest of this season. Spanish midfielder, Vicky Losada, is a doubt while Laura Coombs returns to action.
Players to Watch
For all the attacking talent on show for both sides, their defences are also of particular interest. The two English centre backs – one on either side – are both possibly enjoying the form of their careers and will be ones to keep an eye on Saturday afternoon.
Chelsea’s Millie Bright has had to step up in recent weeks in the absence of Eriksson. The central defender has moved up a level this year and become not just a force at the back but showing her goalscoring talents in attack.
On the opposing side is Alex Greenwood who has shone in the centre back position for Manchester City. There were a few raised eyebrows when Taylor first put her in that position but her development over the last two seasons has made her almost undroppable for both club and country. Greenwood herself is enjoying her football and the trust Taylor and her teammates have in her: “I think going to centre back, I’ve found a role that suits me perfectly…The way we play here and with the trust of my teammates and the way Gaz wants me to play, I feel confident every game. But I also do a lot of hard work away from the pitch and still feel like I’ve got so much more to come. For me personally, I’m just really enjoying my time here and enjoying football.”
The matchup between these star-studded forward lines and their solid defences will be intriguing and it’s hard to know whether it will be goal-filled or go all the way and be decided on penalties. One thing is for certain, a fixture between these two teams always proves entertaining. It will be one not to miss.