Ladies report: Chelsea 0 Man City 0

Neither of the WSL1 pacesetters managed to claim a decisive advantage as the Blues and City played out a lively goalless draw at Kingsmeadow.

An unstoppable force met an immovable object as the WSL Spring Series champions came up against the WSL1 holders under the lights in KT1. The Blues may have had the better of the chances, but the much-anticipated head-to-head left us none the wiser as to whether Man City will retain the WSL or whether the Blues could regain it in May.

Emma Hayes made four changes to the team who got the last-gasp win against Everton less than four days ago as the Blues boss reverted to three at the back. Maren Mjelde skippered the side alongside Ji So-Yun in the centre of midfield, replacing Katie Chapman and Karen Carney, with Fran Kirby and Millie Bright also returning to the line-up, coming in for Erin Cuthbert and Jonna Andersson, our match-winner from the weekend.

Nick Cushing, meanwhile, named a virtually identical starting XI to the side who thrashed Sunderland 3-0 and beat Chelsea in the Continental Tyres Cup semi-final last month. The only fresh face was forward Melissa Lawley, filling in for Claire Emslie, adding to the list of Lionesses for the new manager Phil Neville to watch from the stands.

A high-intensity start to the match, Crystal Dunn coming out all guns blazing, was halted by a lengthy stoppage three minutes in when Man City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley had to be stretchered off with a shoulder problem after clattering into Drew Spence. The England youth keeper Ellie Roebuck made her sixth appearance of the campaign in her place.

There was an early opportunity for Kirby with 20 minutes played after a silky turn and pass by Dunn, and Super Fran fell inches away from sliding across goal for a team-mate to tap it in. The Blues looked confident in possession, but tentative at times in the final third.

The ball went rocketing along the goalmouth at the other end when Lawley charged down the left wing and sent a teasing cross through the six-yard box, but the slightest touch from Magdalena Eriksson was enough to see it out of play for a corner.

Heading into half-time, the honours were just about even. Ji deserved particular credit from a Chelsea perspective, diligently carrying out her defensive duties as well as directing the game in a deep-lying role. From a Man City point of view, the lively 23-year-old Lawley looked one of the most promising attacking outlets for the visitors.

The Blues emerged from the tunnel rejuvenated and nearly created the opening goal with an excellent move on the flank. Dunn was the catalyst, carrying the ball into the Citizens third on her favoured left-hand side before her pass was controlled by Ramona Bachmann, who attempted a cheeky lob over Roebuck towards the back post.

Steph Houghton, who marked her 100th appearance for Man City on Sunday, tried her luck from a free-kick moments later. Her delivery dipped and swerved, but she could not keep it down and Lindahl was relieved to watch it sail over the crossbar.

Chelsea came even closer to breaking the deadlock on 55 minutes when Spence filtered a pinpoint pass through to Kirby, who showed why she loves running in behind. Our top scorer managed to outmuscle her marker magnificently and squeezed a shot inches wide from the tightest of angles for what would have been some finish.

Big chances abounded for the Blues as we almost edged it in the last quarter of an hour. Spence picked up the ball in between the lines, played a superb first touch and asked the right questions of Roebuck. Our playmaker was at it again from a resulting corner that caused mayhem until Spence flicked her header towards the net.

Bachmann was also at her dazzling best, forcing Jen Beattie to deflect the ball over her head from a shot that looked destined for goal, but it wasn’t to be. In the end, it was a positive performance and a decent result for the second-placed hosts in front of the watching Lionesses boss, Phil Neville.

After a game that ought to have set the tone for what was to come approaching the midpoint of the WSL season, attention now turns to the reverse fixture at the Etihad Campus on 24 February, with only two points separating the sides.

Chelsea now face a quick turnaround before we kick off our FA Women’s Cup campaign away to London Bees in the fourth round on Sunday (KO 2pm).

Chelsea (3-4-1-2) Lindahl; Bright, Asante, Eriksson; Blundell, Ji, Mjelde (c) (Chapman 58), Dunn; Spence; Kirby, Bachmann (Cuthbert 90+1)
Unused subs Telford, Thorisdottir, Andersson, Davison, Carney
Booked Spence 89, Ji 90

Manchester City (4-3-3) Bardsley (Roebuck 11); McManus, Houghton (c) (Jans 75), Beattie, Stokes; Scott, Walsh, Christiansen; Parris, Nadim, Lawley (Emslie 82)
Unused subs Stanway, Morgan, Ross, Toone
Booked Scott 45+4

Crowd 2,648