Wembley Stadium forms the backdrop for a handsome-looking Women’s FA Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester United on Sunday.
One of the most highly anticipated fixtures on the women’s football calendar kicks off at 2:30 pm BST, with the prize money skyrocketing this season.
Chelsea earned £25,000 when they won the Women’s FA Cup last year, but the FA has quadrupled the reward this term, with £100,000 up for grabs.
Since 2016/17, the women’s FA Cup winners had been taking home only £25,000 before the football association in England decided to up the stakes, aware of growing interest in women’s football.
According to the Times, the women’s FA Cup final has sold out at the 90,000-seat stadium for the first-ever time, earning the FA over £2 million in matchday income, with fans still looking for last-minute FA Cup final tickets on reseller marketplaces.
Last year’s showpiece fixture had ‘only’ 49,000 supporters in attendance, highlighting the impressive growth of women’s football in the United Kingdom.
Man United should consider themselves lucky for ensuring the opportunity to battle it out for a maiden top-tier honour in front of a sold-out Wembley against reigning holders.
A breathtaking second-half comeback saw Marc Skinner’s side cancel out a 1-0 half-time deficit to beat Brighton & Hove Albion 3-2 in the semi-finals and secure a first-ever foray into the FA Cup title decider.
However, the Red Devils will have to defy the odds in London to overcome four-time champions Chelsea and potentially provide inspiration to the men’s team ahead of their FA Cup final against Manchester City in June.
Unlike Sunday’s showdown, as much as £2 million will be on the line when the fierce cross-city rivals lock horns at Wembley in the men’s final, yet the desire to win should be the same.
A 2-1 aggregate defeat to Spanish powerhouse Barcelona in the Women’s Champions League semi-finals in late April has turned Chelsea into a vindictive squad that crushes everything standing in their way on the domestic front.
Emma Hayes’ side have since won three consecutive Women’s Super League matches by an aggregate score of 15-1, including a scintillating 6-0 rout of Leicester City in the lead-up to this clash.
But despite stringing together four league victories, the Blues are still one point adrift of pacesetters Man United, though a game in hand could make the difference across the final two matchdays.
The London outfit’s pursuit of another league title must take a back seat for now as they prepare to take on a Red Devils side they have defeated in their last six meetings across all competitions.
Adding to Hayes’ confidence, the FA Cup has barely made her high-flyers break a sweat, with the Blues winning all four games in regulation time, including a couple of two-goal margin triumphs.
Inspired by a mercurial run of form, Chelsea have set their sights on winning a third consecutive domestic double, with United the only team still able to stop them in their tracks.
Barring the aforementioned semi-final drama against Brighton, Man Utd have been equally impressive in the FA Cup this season, winning the three remaining outings by an aggregate score of 10-2.
Skinner’s side head into proceedings on the back of an eye-catching seven-match winning streak in all competitions, bookended by a 3-0 demolition of Tottenham Hotspur last week.
Although ‘only’ four of those seven victories yielded multi-goal margins, six saw the Red Devils net at least three goals, highlighting the tremendous scoring potential within the squad.
Man United have gone unbeaten in 20 of their last 21 competitive assignments (W18, D2), a run stretching back to November 2022.
However, an ominous sign must be hovering over Skinner’s head as his team’s only defeat in that span came at the hands of non-other than Chelsea in mid-March.
That 1-0 defeat at Kingsmeadow remains United’s only scoring blank this season, suggesting the Red Devils will be out to prove it was nothing more than just a one-off.
Players to Watch
Chelsea: Samantha Kerr
It’s not been one of her best seasons for Chelsea, but the 29-year-old Sam Kerr is still one of the fiercest forwards in women’s football.
She scored braces in back-to-back FA Cup finals, so the Man United defenders should pay special attention to the Australia international.
Manchester United: Alessia Russo
At 24, Russo is already an established name in the game, with her scoring exploits putting her on a par with Kerr in this season’s Women’s Super League.
Both players have ten goals to their names, respectively. But the English striker will have an added motive this weekend as she looks to prove Chelsea wrong for getting rid of her services six years ago.
There is a slight concern regarding Kerr’s availability as she experienced a cramp in her calf during the victory over Everton. However, she should be fit.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, that doesn’t apply to Fran Kirby, who will stay on the sidelines with a long-term knee problem.
Man United cannot call upon the services of Maria Thorisdottir as she’s yet to recover from a foot injury.
But other than the Norwegian defender, Skinner will have the remainder of his squad available for selection this weekend.
Chelsea potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Ann-Katrin Berger; Jessica Carter, Millie Bright, Magdalena Eriksson, Eve Perisset; Melanie Leupolz, Erin Cuthbert; Guro Reiten, Jelena Cankovic, Lauren James; Samantha Kerr.
Manchester United potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Mary Earps; Ona Batlle, Hannah Blundell, Maya Le Tissier, Millie Turner; Vilde Boe Risa, Katie Zelem; Leah Galton, Lucia Garcia, Ella Toone; Alessia Russo.
We Say: Chelsea 0-1 Manchester United
While Chelsea’s experience in these high-stakes duels could be a significant factor, Man United’s bid to secure a maiden piece of silverware could make the difference.
There’s hardly anything to separate the two teams in the Women’s Super League, and it will likely go down to who wants it more.
And with a piece of history up for grabs, we expect United to beat the odds on Sunday and make this one of two FA Cup finals to watch live in the space of a month.
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