Zelem: Chelsea are immense but Man Utd can ruin WSL title bid

Knock. Knock. The interview pauses for a moment as defender Millie Turner pokes her head around the corner of the MUTV studio.

“Smallest knock ever,” says Katie Zelem, enjoying the irony of her team-mate’s timid interruption midway through talking about how momentous the Manchester United squad have been throughout their triumphant FA Cup journey.

“I’m glad this interview happened today [Wednesday] and not yesterday, because I had no voice,” the captain continues, who gave a brief insight into the players’ celebrations on Sunday evening, “we danced on chairs and sung a lot”, but says the rest of “the tea” will remain undisclosed.

Zelem was one of many standout performers at Wembley as Man United lifted their first major piece of silverware, but she’s the humble type. Far from talking about her individual contribution, she explains how the achievement is the product of a collective drive to succeed.

Saturday 18th May 2:00pm

Kick off 3:00pm

“When the final whistle went it was a mixture of happiness and relief. I just thought ‘wow, what a journey we’ve been on’. I’ve had so many messages of thanks from people, and all I can reply is ‘no, thank you’, because we’ve needed the support and sharing happy moments is how it should be.

Manchester United captain Katie Zelem lifts the FA Cup trophy
Manchester United captain Katie Zelem lifts the FA Cup trophy

“I do think it’s important to live in the moment and celebrate it, football doesn’t stand still. We scored the fourth goal and I ran past Hannah Blundell saying ‘we’ve won the FA Cup’, and she reminded me the game wasn’t over yet, but I just knew it.

“Last year we had our best season yet, and nothing to show for it, so for us it’s about competing for trophies as a group – that’s why you sign for Manchester United.”

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Highlights of the Women’s Super League match between Liverpool and Manchester United

All winning sides have unsung heroes, and it happens that Manchester United’s is Zelem. She’s one of three players – alongside Mary Earps and Maya Le Tissier – to have played every minute of the WSL campaign, all 1,890 of them. And her influence is substantial.

The midfielder has created a league-high 55 chances, while also registering 198 passes into the opposition box, the most of any player in the competition. She leads well too, using her experience and football intellect to guide and manage this young United group.

Katie Zelem has played every minute of Man United's WSL campaign this season
Katie Zelem has played every minute of Man United’s WSL campaign this season

“I never expected any of this – Manchester United didn’t have a women’s team when I was younger,” she continues. “People must be sick of me talking about how my dreams have come true at this club. I’m so privileged to get to do this, and apparently all my family were crying at Wembley.

“At the final whistle I was struggling to catch my breath, but I’m not a crier.”

The sincerity in each of Zelem’s answers is endearing, and the approach so refreshingly unguarded it’s as if we’re sat in a living room, enjoying chit-chat over a cuppa.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect it, but the 28-year-old readily admits to being a “football geek”, albeit her reading and understanding of the game is so impressive that fact came as little surprise to this journalist.

“I like to look and compare league tables,” she says, before pointing to the fact that Manchester City or Chelsea are in line to win this year’s WSL title on 55 points, and yet Man United finished last season on 56 but only came second. “You forget how competitive this league is,” she adds.

Manchester United face Chelsea on the final day, live on Sky Sports, with the Blues primed to win their fifth straight championship. Not on Zelem’s watch. With Wembley momentum on side, the Greater Manchester native believes this is the perfect time to derail Chelsea’s title bid, while ensuring her side lay down a marker ahead of next season.

Katie Zelem has been one of Man United's most consistent performers this season.
Katie Zelem has been one of Man United’s most consistent performers this season.

“It feels like a whole different vibe playing Chelsea now. We know they’re unbelievable, and playing for the title, but we’re here to ruin it.

“The thing about signing for Manchester United is that the expectation is you’re a winner.

“This club has got such a rich history. We’re so glad the women’s team has now added to that, but the ambition only grows, it doesn’t die because we’ve won something.”

Conversation turns to pressure. True to form, Zelem navigates the subject matter pretty effortlessly.

Man United have won three of their four league games on the final day, although that sole loss came in a 4-2 defeat to Chelsea in 2022. So far, they’ve failed to get the better of the Blues in league competition in eight times of trying, despite dumping them out of the FA Cup.

Manchester United beat Chelsea on route to FA Cup glory - but have never beaten the Blues in the WSL
Manchester United beat Chelsea on route to FA Cup glory – but have never beaten the Blues in the WSL

Why should this be any different?

“No one is here to just participate. This job comes with pressure, it’s a job like no other, people openly and happily criticise you just for doing your job every day.

“My mum works for the NHS, no one is shouting abuse at her while she’s tapping away at the computer. It’s a job that’s so unique and you have to appreciate the pressures, rightly or wrongly.

“We want to finish on a high. It’s about taking performances into next year. Winning on Saturday off the back of the FA Cup would be a great footstep into next season.”

Watch Man United vs Chelsea on the final day of the WSL season live on Sky Sports Football this Saturday from 2pm; kick-off 3pm

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