Chelsea Women vs. Manchester City, WSL preview, predicted XI

Coming off an FA Cup win for each club, the WSL's most in-form sides clash at Kingsmeadow on Friday evening in what looks to be a can't-miss showdown.
Manchester City v Chelsea FC  - Barclays Womens Super League
Manchester City v Chelsea FC - Barclays Womens Super League / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

For the second consecutive time this month, Emma Hayes' Chelsea Women will encounter the same club as Mauricio Pochettino's crew is slated to just a day apart. While one is a fixture between a mid-table club and a title contender, the other is a clash at the summit.

Just before the international window, Chelsea Women meet the club on its heels at the top of the Women's Super League table. It is a blockbuster encounter in its finest form. Kingsmeadow was sold out days ago. Two in-form sides. Separated by just three points. Neither has lost in any competition since the turn of the new year. A win for the west Londoners puts them six points clear with eight matches remaining. A draw or defeat makes for an intriguing final stretch of the league campaign.

It is nearly impossible to forget the matchup in Manchester earlier in the season. Captained by Guro Reiten's scrappy finish in stoppage time and Jess Carter's relentlessness in the backline, the Blues escaped northern England with a point despite having a numerical advantage for the final 52 minutes.

The good news is that hopefully, issues with the officiating will not take center stage on Friday night. No Emily Heaslip, so odds are a security escort for the referee will not be necessary. Abi Byrne is in charge, the same person who headed the Chelsea vs. Manchester United match at Stamford Bridge in January.

To sum it up, Hayes' side was relatively fortunate to come away with a point given the amount of rust it showed in the final third. City mustered 14 fewer shots in total but managed to put one more on target compared to the away outfit that afternoon. The Blues were punished for their sluggish start to the match, something they cannot afford to do in the second go-round. The Citizens have netted six goals within the first 32 minutes in the last four league fixtures. In their last league game though, it took until the final eight minutes of regulation to put a chance past Leicester City and Lize Kop.

Success in southwest London for the outfit from Manchester has been few and far between in recent years. Throughout the last four WSL games on the Blues' home soil, City has been outscored 8-2 with Fran Kirby and Maren Mjelde combining for four out of the last six goals. No. 14 just simply loves competing against the blue side of Manchester. If she scores again on Friday, it'll be the fourth consecutive campaign that she has converted a chance vs. City.

Even with Jill Roord out of the season due to an ACL injury, the club has no shortage of attacking quality. You have Lauren Hemp coming from the left, Khadija Shaw occupying the advanced areas down the heart, and Chole Kelly running at you on the right. Two of which sit in the top four among the entire WSL in shot-creating actions.

The Jamaican international leads the English top-flight in goal contributions with 16, three more than CFCW's Lauren James. Shaw only competed for 11 minutes in the first meeting. Her sheer strength in hold-up play, creativity with the ball at her feet, and aerial threat during set pieces will make for a long day at the office for the Chels' defense. Millie Bright's absence should be very much felt in this one.

What will be really interesting is the feud in the middle of the pitch. Erin Cuthbert and Yui Hasegawa. Cuthbert was nowhere near her fitness level now back in October, playing just over a half before being subbed off. Man City's Player of the Month for January has arguably been in just as good of form as Cuthbert this season, doing all those little things to make the stars around her shine. Underrated is often an adjective thrown around to describe the two midfield engines.

The two have to be considered the elite of the elite in the WSL in terms of defensive midfielders. The 27-year-old is as clean as a midfielder can get. Per Sam Biccarino, Hasegawa has played the most minutes in the league without competing a foul. Both are top-11 in tackles plus interceptions among all players in the English top-flight this season. And, of course, how could we forget---the two enjoy netting a goal-of-the-season contender from time to time.

Similar to the west Londoners' backline, City's has been a good form defensively behind the play of 19-year-old Khiara Keating. The club has amassed four straight clean sheets, including two against Tottenham Hotspur. Gareth Taylor's team is still the only side left with fewer than 10 goals conceded in the league. Remember, though, there is only one team in the league this season that has a two-time WSL Player of the Month. Lauren James cooked the Citizens' backline in October, completing five out of her six take-on attempts, forcing Lauren Hemp into her second yellow card.

Start popping that popcorn. Move those Friday night plans you made a week ago. This is a clash of the Titans. One that wants to send its legendary coach out on a high. The other has its eyes set on disrupting the norm at the very top of this league.

Note: Chelsea is not releasing Mayra Ramirez for the CONCACAF W Gold Cup in the United States, so she'll be available during the tournament that runs outside the allocated FIFA window until March 10. Mia Fishel, Ashley Lawrence, and Kadeisha Buchanan will all head out to compete in that competition.

Chelsea Women vs. Manchester City predicted starting XI

Goalkeeper: Hannah Hampton

Defenders: Jess Carter, Eve Perisset, Niamh Charles, Nathalie Björn

Midfielders: Erin Cuthbert, Melanie Leupolz, Lauren James

Forwards: Guro Reiten, Fran Kirby, Mayra Ramírez

Chelsea Women vs. Manchester City match info

Date: Friday, February 16

Time: 19:15 GMT, 2:15 p.m. EST

TV Broadcast: Paramount+, BBC