Women’s FA Cup final preview: Manchester United vs. Tottenham

Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur will face off in the Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley on Sunday (stream live on ESPN+ from 9:30 a.m. ET, U.S. only). And it is the first time a team since 2005, when Charlton beat Everton 1-0, that it won’t be one of Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester City who lift the trophy.

The stakes are high ahead of the highly anticipated fixture with history, rivalry and bragging rights on the line. ESPN correspondents Sophie Lawson and Emily Keogh answer the big questions and share their predictions, which players to watch and more.

Stream on ESPN+: NWSL, LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)


What state are Man United in going into the match?

Man United’s form this season has been a far cry from 12 months ago, when they were heading into their first-ever FA Cup final en route to finishing second in the Women’s Super League, just two points adrift of champions Chelsea.

This season, however, the Red Devils have found themselves labouring through games, not quite finding their rhythm. They have slipped down to fifth in the standings. Last week’s loss to rivals Liverpool will have left the team bruised, as they were leapfrogged by the Reds, and it was also the first time Man United have failed to score this season, which raises questions over their harmony in attack.

United have yet to overcome the summer departures of Alessia Russo (to Arsenal) and Ona Batlle (to Barcelona), and although they have added valuable depth to their attack, the pieces have often refused to fall into place for manager Marc Skinner.

A title charge quickly fizzled away, leaving just FA Cup glory to save United’s season. But, having suffered a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea at Wembley last year, United will feel they have experience on their side against underdogs Spurs. — Lawson

What state are Tottenham in going into the match?

Tottenham have a lot of confidence and, knowing that they are the underdogs, the pressure is lifted. Having never reached the final before, the side has nothing to lose, which makes it a dangerous opponent. While it has not been the most consistent WSL season, there are plenty of positives.

Having battled relegation last season, Spurs have cemented a comfortable sixth-placed finish with a game to go and have proven they can compete with the best in the WSL. It has also been a season of growth. When Spurs faced Man United in November, they fell to a 4-0 drubbing. But only a few weeks ago, right after it was confirmed that these two sides would be heading to Wembley, Spurs held United to a 2-2 draw and even led throughout much of that fixture.

However, they will be without key midfielder Grace Clinton. The 20-year-old is on loan from Manchester United and therefore can’t face her parent club in the final. While she has been an important part of Tottenham’s attack and has proven vital in orchestrating tempo, Tottenham’s recent outing against United was a valuable one as it taught them how to play effectively without Clinton. — Keogh

How come neither of these big clubs have won this trophy before?

It wasn’t so long ago that Spurs were making their way up the women’s football pyramid, earning promotions from the regional tiers, through the Championship and up to the WSL for the first time ahead of the 2019-20 season. And, at a time when Spurs were grafting as a part-time team, the Man United women’s side lay dormant, having been abandoned in 2005 and only being brought back in 2018.

Both teams were promoted from the second tier in the 2019-20 season and have been finding their respective footing in the WSL ever since.

Man United, already operating as a professional team during their single season in the Championship, hit the ground running under then-manager Casey Stoney and immediately started chasing down the top three in England.

Conversely, Spurs’ life in the WSL has been littered with pitfalls and upheaval. Indeed, it wasn’t until this season, with the arrival of Swedish boss Robert Vilahamn as manager, that they looked like they could seriously challenge the big clubs.

As Skinner knows — not just from last season’s FA Cup final loss, but his previous outing at Wembley with Birmingham City in 2017 (a 4-1 loss to Manchester City) — it’s one thing to get to the big stage but quite another to wrest silverware away from the dominant three. But Man United and Spurs will have no better chance to make history. — Lawson

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How Manchester United held off Chelsea to make second successive FA Cup final

Sophie Lawson reacts to Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea to reach the Women’s FA Cup final.

How big an upset would it be if Tottenham were to win?

Man United reached the final last season and have the edge on experience, but Tottenham have shown their progression and would be worthy winners. Having a new name on the trophy either way is a great thing for women’s football, but Tottenham winning would be a bigger statement given that they gained promotion to the WSL in 2019 and the team’s history only dates back to 1985.

For both the men’s and women’s sides, Tottenham’s drought (the men won the League Cup in 2008) is something that has plagued the side. Vilahamn knows exactly how important a win would be and will look to use his experiences of cup finals in Sweden to try to bring a trophy home.

It would feel like an upset given Man United’s dalliance with the top three last season and the fact that they reached last year’s final. However, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see Tottenham give Man United a run for their money and pull off the win. They came incredibly close in their last meeting, only conceding in stoppage time, and with penalty-saving hero Becky Spencer in goal and heading to her 10th FA Cup final, an upset might be on the cards.— Keogh

Man United player to watch: Ella Toone

A big player for the big occasion, Toone — who has already scored at Wembley in her career — could be the key for Man United as they look to claim a first FA Cup title.

Although the England international hasn’t always hit the top of her game this season, after a grueling couple of years with little rest, the mercurial midfielder has already popped up with a few game-changing moments (and goals). If it’s a nervy contest that needs a moment of magic, Toone could be the one with the wizardry at Wembley.

Another player who hasn’t always showcased her best form this season, Leah Galton could also be a game-changer. If she’s allowed to play in her natural position on the wing, where she can run at Spurs’ right-back rather than being shunted over to full-back, she could make a real impact.

Tottenham player to watch: Beth England

Tottenham have several players who have stepped up in recent months. Martha Thomas is facing her former team, whom she represented in the FA Cup final last season. Drew Spence has played in tons of high-stakes games; so has her compatriot Spencer, who has won the FA Cup six times (five as an unused substitute). But no one is more experienced, more of a leader and more crucial to Tottenham than Beth England.

The former Chelsea striker was at the forefront of one of the most formidable attacks in Europe and has played in FA Cup and Champions League finals. On the international stage, she has proven to be a key player, stepping up to take a penalty for England against Nigeria in the 2023 World Cup round of 16. Having played and scored at Wembley, the occasion will not faze her. She is also a stalwart leader who has the ability to elevate those around her.

Getting Beth England on the ball in the box will be key but, with some of Spurs’ other attacking players likely having to drop deep to help the defence, she may have to go it alone. — Keogh

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Tottenham reach the Women’s FA Cup final for the first time in their history

Martha Thomas’ goal in extra time gives Tottenham a 2-1 win over Leicester in the FA Cup semifinal.

What is your prediction?

Manchester United 2-1 Tottenham: Before their 2-2 draw in the WSL at the end of April, it would have been easy to say it will be a Man United win. Yet that draw was telling and highlighted the progress Spurs have made under Vilahamn, as well as the regression United have suffered.

Wembley is a unique stage, and although there are players in Spurs’ squad who’ve experienced it before, it will be new for a large part of the team, as well as the manager. The pressure and the expectation will be on United, which plays into Spurs’ hands, but Vilahamn may have shown too much of his hand last month, and if you throw in that little bit of experience that came from losing last year, I think we’ll see the Red Devils lifting the trophy. — Lawson

Tottenham 3-2 Manchester United: If Spurs had lost their most recent game against United, or had even been level for most of the afternoon, it would have been far easier to say United will likely lift the trophy. But all the signs are pointing towards Tottenham after that performance.

Yes, Man United will be hurting from their dismal league campaign, and yes, they have the upper hand, but Spurs are together and determined. The club are desperate for a trophy and, though it probably won’t be pretty or easy, I think Tottenham take it 3-2, likely with extra time. It might even need another late intervention from Thomas to get it done. — Keogh