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WSL 2022/2023 : Manchester United Women vs Chelsea Women - tactical analysis tactics

WSL 2022/23 : How Chelsea used high pressing to exploit Manchester United’s defensive weaknesses – tactical analysis

Manchester United Women hosted Chelsea Women in the seventh fixture of the WSL and the game ended with a deserved 1-3 win for the Blues while Manchester United lost the battle against one of their rivals especially and this loss can be impactful for the Red Devils when looking at the standings even though the season is still long. In fact, Manchester United are just behind Chelsea in the standings: Manchester United are third while Chelsea are second behind Arsenal who are at the top of the WSL.

The difference between the two is just three points but winning a direct encounter will mean a lot at the end of the run, despite the fact that Manchester United are yet to play a delayed match. Chelsea however put on another excellent attacking performance exploiting Manchester United’s defensive errors and doing their best to score as many goals as possible even when they were 0-2 and 1-2.

Cuthbert, James, Kerr, Ingle and Bright were the key players for Chelsea in this match as they were the most impactful players during the 90 minutes and contributed heavily not only to the actions of the three goals but also to preserving and consolidating their win.

On the other side, Manchester United were not able to cope with Chelsea’s powerful attacking line and failed to resist their attempts. And at the same time, the team wasn’t able to threaten Chelsea’s defence continuously which gave a lot of space and time for the Blues to attack more often and keep possession as needed too.

In this tactical analysis article, we will focus on exploring Chelsea’s attacking performance and tactics as well as the reasons that led to Manchester United’s loss. But first, we will start the analysis by introducing the two line-ups.


Marc Skinner, Manchester United’s head coach, preferred to start the match relying on the 4-2-3-1 with Mary Earps as a goalkeeper, Hannah Blundell, Maya Le Tissier, Millie Turner and Maria Thorisdóttir in defence, Hayley Ladd and Katie Zelem as central midfielders, Nikita Parris and Leah Galton as wingers, with Ella Toone being the advanced playmaker just behind the striker Alessia Russo.

For the Blues, Emma Hayes chose to play according to a 4-4-1-1 formation with Ann-Katrin Berger as a goalkeeper, Niamh Charles, Millie Bright, Kadeisha Buchanan and Magdalena Eriksson in defence, Sophie Ingle and Erin Cuthbert as central midfielders, Guro Reiten and former Manchester United’s Lauren James as wingers, and Pernille Harder as an advanced playmaker behind the striker, Sam Kerr.


WSL 2022/2023 : Manchester United Women vs Chelsea Women - tactical analysis tactics

Chelsea’s attacking performance

Chelsea had the superiority over Manchester United throughout this match as the team had 58.61% in terms of possession despite playing at Leigh Sports Village and facing a team that strives for a home win against Chelsea. The Blues used a high pressing approach in order to disturb Manchester United’s build-up phase and prevent them from reaching Chelsea’s half with ease. This pressing was often led by Kerr, Reiten, James and Cuthbert and it was effective because it led to numerous Manchester United mistakes.

WSL 2022/2023 : Manchester United Women vs Chelsea Women - tactical analysis tactics

Here is another example where we can see Cuthbert making an excellent effort to read the defender’s passing intention and intercept it successfully, which resulted in a dangerous goalscoring opportunity for Chelsea. These interceptions were key for Chelsea in this match and the continuous high pressing in general has been very useful for the team from an attacking perspective.

WSL 2022/2023 : Manchester United Women vs Chelsea Women - tactical analysis tactics

Moreover, Chelsea’s striker Kerr was fundamental to her team’s win in this match since she was very dynamic in and outside the box, shooting with efficiency when needed and passing the ball when necessary as well. She scored a goal, provided an excellent assist and could have scored even more goals if she didn’t miss a few opportunities such as the header she missed following an accurate cross from Ingle inside the box. But despite that, it is safe to say that Kerr has accomplished her role successfully in this match and the following graphic shows it clearly.



WSL 2022/2023 : Manchester United Women vs Chelsea Women - tactical analysis tactics


Kerr was able to score her single goal of the match thanks to an interception from Ingle in Manchester United’s own half as a result of another wrong pass. Kerr received a pass from Ingle but was marked tightly. Yet, she was able to react quickly and escape from marking in order to find a possible trajectory towards the goal. She did that by accelerating a little before shooting with power towards the opposite angle in order to confuse Earps.

WSL 2022/2023 : Manchester United Women vs Chelsea Women - tactical analysis tactics

Chelsea were able to find their best form during the second half and especially after scoring their first goal. They continued to press high throughout the match and exploited every opportunity to reach Manchester United’s goal.

The team’s second goal took place thanks to an excellent long pass from Bright which was executed in defence and was going towards the direction of Kerr’s movement. The latter controlled the ball well and waited for the rest of the attackers to join the final third since she was alone at first. And as soon as she saw James coming, she gave her an excellent assist in the form of an invitation to shoot. James didn’t refuse the invitation and scored a goal with a first-time shot towards the right corner.

WSL 2022/2023 : Manchester United Women vs Chelsea Women - tactical analysis tactics

During the last minutes of the game, Cuthbert was also able to finish her great performance with a goal using her left foot to shoot, knowing that the ball was deflected as well. Nevertheless, Cuthbert has been proving continuously that she has adapted very well to her position and that she can be very useful when playing as a central midfielder alongside Ingle.

WSL 2022/2023 : Manchester United Women vs Chelsea Women - tactical analysis tactics

Manchester United’s performance and errors

Manchester United failed to resist Chelsea’s playing system in this match and struggled to defend against their attacks, especially during the second half. They conceded a lot and were not able to have a lot of possession, especially in Chelsea’s own half. This has impacted their attacking performance a lot and led to isolating Russo numerous times in the match.

In the few times, Russo was involved in the actions and was served in an efficient way, she was able to create danger. In fact, Russo was also able to score her team’s single goal of the match when she received an excellent through pass that broke Chelsea’s defensive line. As you can see below, Russo was able to have an advantage over her marker and put the ball inside the net with a lot of skill despite being disturbed.

WSL 2022/2023 : Manchester United Women vs Chelsea Women - tactical analysis tactics

But despite this goal, Manchester United failed to battle with Chelsea for the three points because they made way too many defensive mistakes and especially mistakes related to wrong passing and concentration at key moments.

The Red Devils will have to work a lot on this aspect if they’d like to keep battling for the top spots. Otherwise, it will be complicated to challenge teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and others. The following passing mistake, for instance, was made at a key moment and led to conceding a second goal and therefore limiting the team’s equalising chances.

WSL 2022/2023 : Manchester United Women vs Chelsea Women - tactical analysis tactics


Chelsea won the match with a great performance and a lot of discipline in terms of defensive and attacking movements and positioning. And that makes them more prepared for the upcoming fixtures and more confident in their ability to win.

On the other side, Manchester United will have to fix numerous problems related to their defensive line and to their concentration during key moments of the match. In addition, working on attacking movements and plans as well as trying to attack as a unit will help the team a lot in the near future if applied successfully.