Manchester United Women 1-1 Chelsea FC Women: Champions held by Reds on opening weekend
Photo by Harriet Lander - Chelsea FC via Getty Images

If draws can send statements in football, that's what Manchester United's did on Sunday afternoon. Casey Stoney's side constantly fell short against the top three sides last season but they opened their WSL campaign with a well-deserved draw against champions Chelsea.

The star-studded Blues had taken a first-half lead as Sam Kerr opened her account for the season. She could have had a hat-trick. United looked a more confident side in the second half and eventually got their equaliser with 10 minutes remaining, Leah Galton finishing a well-worked team counter-attack.

For a Chelsea team whose main aim for the campaign is to achieve European glory, two dropped points away to United on the opening day is a far from ideal start.

Emma Hayes strengthened her squad in impressive fashion during the summer but even the late substitution that saw the world's most expensive female footballer, Pernille Harder, come onto the pitch couldn't rescue the game for Chelsea.

Story of the game

Though Sam Kerr was once again guilty of an excess of missed chances, the Australian secured Chelsea a first-half lead.

Fran Kirby had been described as 'like a new signing' in the week leading up to the league's return and in her long-awaited return she provided quality in the final third. A clever back-heel gave Kerr the chance to cross into the box but Mary Earps gathered well for United, preventing Reiten from shooting.

Chelsea dominated the early possession but troubled Earps little, in part thanks to the safety net provided by captain Katie Zelem who, at one point, saved a one-on-one with a crucial stuck-out leg 10 yards outside of the penalty area.

A first Kerr effort drew a corner from Earps from which Reiten struck powerfully into the United goalkeeper's body. Within five minutes, Chelsea would have a deserved lead. That's not to say that Manchester United were playing poorly, but a goal was coming.

Kirby found space on the right, received the through ball and sped down the flank, drilled a low cross into the six-yard box which was bundled home by a strong, merciless Kerr who almost threw her marker, Smith, to the floor.

A second almost followed as Kerr intercepted a lazy pass in the United defence. Her shot wasn't good enough and swung past the far post, never worrying Earps.

United threatened themselves but whether it was through imprecise passing, slow or poor decision-making or weak finishing, they were always dealt with by the Chelsea defence. Galton, for example, was one-on-one with the goalkeeper to beat. Her ponderous dribble allowed Kirby and Mjelde to rescue back the ball.

Chelsea had more opportunities to double their lead. Wonderful vision and execution from Ji with a looping throughball over the defence gave Kerr another chance. Her shot was powerful and taken well but it was into Earps' body.

Though it wasn't United's best chance, the Reds came closest on the half-time whistle. Hansen's cross was met by Galton. Her header went up and as it began to come down, Telford scrambled and threw herself upwards before watching it crash off the crossbar.

Casey Stoney sent new signing Ona Batlle out for the second half with renewed vigour. The 19-year-old played a key part in a flourishing United side that suddenly came to life for the second period.

Batlle stormed past her marker and shot when a cross would have been better but the United attack came with vigour. Ladd, Toone, Galton and Zelem all saw shots blocked within a five-minute period in which Stoney's team harried Chelsea in defence, won the ball back high up the pitch and moved it across to the wings nicely.

Jackie Groenen's arrival helped to stir things some more and United tried to press the issue further with the introduction of Lauren James. Ultimately it was a fruitless endeavour which will be a great disappointment to Stoney who knew that, at that point, United were still yet to ever score against Chelsea despite two relatively good performances against them in the last 18 months.

Emma Hayes is blessed with a stunning wealth of quality on the sub's bench and her changes seemed to be taking the pace out of United's game until a wonderfully slick move from the Reds suddenly turned the game.

Mary Earps had been kept busy in the moments before United's equaliser, denying Cuthbert with two fantastic saves. Her quality in goal kept United in the game.

The move began from the United defence as they slowly moved up the pitch. Space was opened up by a fantastic first-time chipped reverse pass by Ella Toone. Groenen ran onto it and her low cross was equally good. Lauren James' presence in the area attracted Chelsea's defenders and that allowed Leah Galton to finish off a great team goal.

United sensed the possibility of a famous win but as normal time came to its conclusion, Chelsea were starting to mount a strong effort for victory. Both sides chased the win, neither could find it.

Takeaways from the match

Chelsea left ruing missed chances

Sam Kerr scored Chelsea's only goal of the game but she missed two golden opportunities to extend her side's lead. On one occasion it was a chance she created herself with good pressing and another came after a wonderful ball from Ji. On both occasions, she could have waited for a moment and composed herself. She missed twice.

It was a similar situation to the recent Community Shield where Kerr was guilty of missing chances. It's very early in the season but as Chelsea seek glory on multiple fronts, they must be more clinical.

United's second-half flurry of chances

The 10 minutes after the break were all United. They pressed Chelsea tirelessly, created chances aplenty and looked certain to score. They didn't, their goal came later. But it showed just how good Casey Stoney's team can be at their best, even against the champions.

If they can add a couple of additional players, with Heath and Press still linked, their hopes of breaking into the top three may not look so unrealistic when combined with Sunday's impressive result and performance.

New signings

We saw only a few minutes Chelsea's record signing Pernille Harder. But we saw more of Jackie Groenen and Ona Batlle for United. Both looked good, particularly Batlle in the second half. She had clearly been told to play further up the pitch at half-time and it was her drive that was behind United's best period.

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