Player ratings as Lauren James hat-trick leaves former club playing catch-up

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FROM STAMFORD BRIDGE – Lauren James scored a glorious hat-trick against former club Manchester United to leave them ten points behind the Blues in the WSL title race, extinguishing their title hopes for the season in the process.

Three minutes in, James sauntered over to take a corner in front of a hefty travelling support. Two minutes later, she was on the score-sheet to give Chelsea a comfortable early lead. Cooly running past the sea of red shirts, James gestured with her hands, resembling ‘And what?’ as jeers from the Red Devils fans were cancelled out by roars from the packed out home crowd.

James would have the last laugh overall. Her opening strike set the tone for the remainder of the afternoon as a whole, with two more goals to add the gloss, the 22-year-old’s hat trick proving that even without prolific striker Sam Kerr, Chelsea dominance will continue.

James’ second came from a timed run and clinical finish, sprung from Nathalie Bjorn’s pinpoint long ball. The Sweden international is Chelsea’s only winter signing and, on her league debut, proved why the former Everton player was on Hayes’ radar to fill the void left by Millie Bright.

The third was James at her best. Given the freedom to roam, she tore across the Stamford Bridge turf and, with a clinical finish, settled at the top of the WSL Golden Boot race.

United were plagued with injury strife, restricting Marc Skinner’s side to just five outfield substitutes. Chelsea were facing a far less calamitous statistic but were still without the aforementioned Bright and Kerr who suffered an ACL injury over the winter break.

Perhaps due to their injury crisis United were unable to respond with similar ruthlessness. A wasteful afternoon saw Marc Skinner’s side squander chances but managed to pull one back in the first half as Hayley Ladd capitalised on some chaotic defending to reduce their wounds.

Chelsea are the only side that United have never beaten before. The sides will not face again in the WSL until the very last day of the 2023/24 season at Old Tarfford where that contest could dictate whether Hayes exits Chelsea victorious over England once again.

How the game unfolded

An early goal set the tone for the afternoon as James converted from a reworked corner just five minutes into the game. Taking a deflection off defender Millie Turner, it felt all too easy for Chelsea to clinch the lead. Her second came from an expertly crafted run after Kadeisha Buchanan took her free-kick swiftly, laying off for Bjorn to play the long ball for the 22-year-old to finish.

United rebounded with Ladd netting in the 43rd minute after some shambolic defending from the hosts left the Wales international able to nip one back.

Chelsea had a nervy few moments early in the second half as the Blues almost gifted United an equaliser before the visitors squandered three chances in quick succession to draw level from Ella Toone, Lucia Garcia and goalscorer Ladd.

Skinner and the visiting bench were incensed asking for a penalty as Leah Galton drove towards goal and went down under pressure, but referee Abigail Byrne was uninterested in their protest.

At the other end, James secured her hat trick with another expert finish to seal the game and claim full bragging rights over her former side.

Niamh Charles

Niamh Charles captained Chelsea for the first time / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

GK: Hannah Hampton – 7/10 – Impressive after being handed such a high stakes game for only her second start for Chelsea.

RB: Ashley Lawrence – 7/10 – Critical player for Chelsea who showed up both offensivley and defensively for Hayes.

CB: Kadeisha Buchanan – 5/10 – Poor from the centre-back who gifted United’s goal.

CB: Nathalie Bjorn – 7/10 – Clinical and impressive on debut for her new club.

LB: Niamh Charles – 7/10 – Rose to the occasion of captaining her side for the first time well and had another superb performance.

CM: Melanie Leupolz – 8/10 – Such a key player that gels Hayes’ midfield together.

CM: Erin Cuthbert – 8/10 – Another standout performance from the Scotland international.

RW: Johanna Rytting Kaneryd – 9/10 – Her pace and vision is unmatched. Selflessness to lay off James for goals was key.

CAM: Lauren James – 10/10 – Simply exceptional.

LW: Guro Reiten – 7/10 – Was unable to make as much impact as usual but played a key role on the left.

ST: Mia Fishel – 6/10 – Failed to do much as the striker.


SUB: Sjoeke Nusken (53′ for Fishel) – 8/10

SUB: Jess Carter (77′ for Buchanan) – 6/10

SUB: Fran Kirby (88′ for James) – n/a

Unused subs: Musovic (GK), Ingle, Perisset, Mjelde, Cankovic, Beever-Jones.


Emma Hayes – 9/10 – Made all the right calls and strategically was too clinical to match.

Leah Galton had second half penalty appeals waved away

Leah Galton had second half penalty appeals waved away / Gaspafotos/MB Media/GettyImages

GK: Mary Earps – 5/10 – Was not a shining performance from the England number one but was let down by a disconnected defence.

RB: Jayde Rivere – 6/10 – Positive from the Canada international but unable to make much impact.

CB: Millie Turner – 6/10 – Read the attacks well but was poor in clearing the lines.

CB: Maya Le Tissier – 7/10 – Another controlled performance.

LB: Hannah Blundell – 6/10 – Should have done better to track James for the second goal.

CM: Katie Zelem (c) – 6/10 – Won some impressive aerial duels but was unable to do much else.

CM: Hayley Ladd – 7/10 – Pulled one back for her side but was unable to retain possession in the engine room.

RW: Lucia Garcia – 6/10 – A similar story to Galton on the other side. Was unable to capitalise on chances but did better when moved more centrally.

AM: Ella Toone – 5/10 – Struggled to make enough impact.

LW: Leah Galton – 6/10 – Was far quieter than usual but made some good runs.

ST: Geyse – 6/10 – Lost the battle against Cuthbert and struggled to convert her chances, although she made the consolation possible.


SUB: Nikita Parris (68′ for Garcia) – 6/10

SUB: Lisa Naalsund (68′ for Ladd) – 6/10

SUB: Rachel Williams (80′ for Toone) – n/a

SUB: Gemma Evans (90+4′ for Blundell) – n/a

Unused subs: Tullis-Joyce (GK), Irene G.


Marc Skinner: 4/10 – Was unable to find ways to break through Chelsea’s defence and overturn his biggest adversary but caveated by an injury crisis.

Player of the match: Lauren James (Chelsea)


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