'Everyone wants to see us fail' - Chelsea star Erin Cuthbert on FA Cup final against Man Utd, increased WSL competition and why she's nowhere near reached her prime

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Erin Cuthbert Chelsea Women 2022-23
The Scotland international will be looking to lift her fourth Women's FA Cup when the Blues take on Manchester United at a sold-out Wembley on Sunday

Erin Cuthbert can't help but smile when recalling her stunning goal from the 2022 Women's FA Cup final. By her own admission, the fiery Ayrshire native has not scored many since her move into a less-advanced midfield role a year-and-a-half ago. But, always a player for the big occasion, she made sure she brought her shooting boots for last year's showpiece event at Wembley Stadium.

With the scores level at 1-1, Beth England tapped the ball into her path. Cuthbert was well outside the box, but only had one thought in her mind. After giving herself half a yard of space to take a swing, she unleashed an unstoppable strike that flew past Ellie Roebuck in the Manchester City goal, with the ball bouncing down off the crossbar on its way in.

"What a moment that was for myself personally," Cuthbert tells GOAL. "I don’t normally score that many goals so that was one to remember, especially when it hits the crossbar, comes down and then hits the top of the net. That really is pretty good going. I was pretty buzzing with that."

Although Hayley Raso would equalise for City at the death, a battling extra-time performance from Chelsea saw them clinch the trophy without having to endure the lottery of a penalty shootout. It was the type of gritty performance that has characterised Emma Hayes' side in recent years, and few players typify this win-at-all-costs mentality more than Cuthbert, who is now into her seventh season at Kingsmeadow.

  1. It's been a long season
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    It's been a long season

    The Scotland international now has her eyes on having an equally-decisive impact on Sunday, when Chelsea take on Manchester United in this year's final. The game will be played in front of a sellout crowd at Wembley for the first time ever, another indication of the unbelievable growth of women's football since Euro 2022.

    It also comes towards the end of a testing season for Chelsea. Defeated in the Conti Cup final by Arsenal in March, the Blues were then knocked out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage by Barcelona. The Women's Super League title remains up for grabs, but the Blues currently trail leaders United by four points, albeit with two games in hand.

    Injuries have been a recurrent theme for Chelsea, with Cuthbert herself missing games this season due to fitness issues. However, she insists that the squad are not feeling the mental and physical effects of a gruelling campaign.

    "I was reflecting on how I felt last season and I never slept a wink in the last few weeks, honestly. I’m certainly sleeping like a baby this time around! I’m really enjoying it and relishing it. I personally don’t feel mentally tired. The minutes have been shared a lot more around our squad than maybe others. It will be different for each team and how they’re feeling," she says.

    "We’ve been in a lot of tournaments but certain things and certain turning points give you energy. The performance against Lyon in the home leg [of the Champions League quarter-final tie] certainly gave us a lot of energy. Even just going to Barcelona and Camp Nou and showing what we were capable of gave everybody in the dressing room a lift. We were gutted to go out but the dressing room saw it as a turning point and fuel in the fire to really kick on. We all said ‘this is time to go on and win two titles.'"

  2. 'We have to use these moments'

    'We have to use these moments'

    The Lyon victory that Cuthbert refers to was one of the most dramatic games in Champions League history. With Chelsea protecting a 1-0 lead from the first leg - in which Cuthbert was exceptional, setting up Guro Reiten's stunner with some classy midfield play - Vanessa Gilles' late leveller sent the game to extra-time.

    Sara Dabritz then looked like she had won it for the reigning champions, only for Maren Mjelde to convert a penalty in the eighth minute of second-half stoppage time following an excruciating VAR delay. The Blues would then triumph in the shootout thanks to some heroics from goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger.

    It was far from the first time that Chelsea's elite winning mentality had seen them through a sticky situation, and this experience in crunch moments might be needed when they take on young upstarts United this weekend.

    "We have to use these moments, bank them up, bottle them, keep them safe. And when you might need them, they come out of the woodwork. I think experience is really important. At this level, especially this season, there’s such fine margins between all the teams so you have to use whatever competitive advantage you have," Cuthbert says.

    "Those moments are so hard to come by and as players we live for the adrenaline. Nothing can come close to that feeling, that feeling we had at Lyon. It was an incredible day for the football club and it makes you want to have more of them. We’ve had them, we want more and I think that’s what’s driving everyone."

  3. 'What Man Utd have done is brilliant'

    'What Man Utd have done is brilliant'

    Cuthbert knows that Marc Skinner's side will provide a real test for Chelsea, though. The league table does not lie, even if the Red Devils have not beaten Sunday's opponents in nine previous meetings.

    Asked whether Chelsea enter the game as favourites, she says: "I don’t know. We go into the game with two teams who are very evenly matched. I don’t know if there is a favourite. Both teams have been performing very well this season. I respect Man United.

    "I think what they’ve done is brilliant. Their resilience to bounce back from last year when they missed out on the Champions League has been amazing. But I think we’ve picked up a bit of momentum in the Champions League. Having those games, using the energy. I honestly think it’s difficult to say if there is a favourite."

    The battle for the wings will likely play a significantly role at Wembley. The performances of Reiten and Lauren James have been vital for Chelsea this season, but United's Leah Galton and flying full-back Ona Batlle have enjoyed similarly impressive campaigns.

    "They’re quite an aggressive team. Very good in wide areas, they’ve got fast players who are very technical and have had very good seasons. They’re a team that’s hungry. When you’ve not won anything you have a certain hunger and desire to get there and we’ve got to match that as a bare minimum.

    "When they were the underdogs people would think they would never win, but now they want to prove to everyone themselves and become a really good team. They’re right up there competing with us and it shows in the league how toe to toe we’ve gone all season. It shows the quality of their dressing room. Of course, mentally it does play a part that we’ve beat them in both games. It’s quite a good phycological advantage knowing that we can beat them."

  4. How will this affect the WSL title race?

    How will this affect the WSL title race?

    It's not just in the FA Cup that United are looking to challenge Chelsea's supremacy either. Although the WSL title remains in the Blues' hands, only beating Liverpool narrowly at home recently hinted at the possibility of Chelsea not winning all of their remaining league games - one of which is against Arsenal. Should that happen, things will go down to the wire. There's even the possibility of the title being decided by goal difference.

    The FA Cup final could play a key role in deciding where the trophy ends up. The game comes just three days before Chelsea travel to the London Stadium to take on West Ham, and only a week prior to their showdown with Arsenal. Losing at Wembley would dent their momentum, but Cuthbert is determined to prevent this being a factor.

    "Is there a chance? Always," she says, when asked if the game could affect the title race. "We’ve got to make sure that chance is zilch. Of course, winning the FA Cup would give us a great deal of momentum going into the league campaign, but we haven’t let the Champions League campaign derail our league season, or the Conti Cup.

    "We’ve lost the last two Conti Cup finals and everyone thought: 'Chelsea are out, they’re falling apart, here we go'. Everyone wants to see us fail, but the best thing about this team is we bounce back up and show ourselves in big moments. Whatever happens, we’ll be ready."

  5. 'Everybody's been against us this season'
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    'Everybody's been against us this season'

    It's evident that this increased domestic challenge has provided an extra dose of motivation for Chelsea this season. The WSL has never been as competitive as it is now, and as better players and coaches continue to join the league, it is only going to get harder for Cuthbert and Co. to retain their grip on English football.

    "Honestly, I feel like everybody's been against us this season, so it's just added fuel to our fire. I think everybody expects the winning team to slip up all the time, so it's our job to keep proving we are still at the top and to try to remain there is probably the hardest thing. Having a target on your back each and every season requires you to adapt and change the way you play a little bit because everybody starts to figure you out in every single game, there are no easy games in our league any more," she says.

    "So having a target on your back each and every season is quite hard, staying at the top is hard, it requires a lot of sort of psychological training, mental training, mental toughness, mentality. But that's drilled into us in training every day, about being competitive and being winners. Chelsea is a club where winning is a core part of Chelsea teams, so we want to win everything, and I think being able to refine and add every year is going to be really important for staying at the top because the gap is getting narrower."

  6. What does the future hold?
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    What does the future hold?

    If Chelsea are going to remain at the top of the European game, Cuthbert - who recently signed a new deal until summer 2025 - is going to at the heart of their success. She has been a revelation since Hayes finally acquiesced to her requests to play in midfield, helping her side get over the loss of the talismanic Ji So-yun at the end of last season. She still feels she has plenty of time to get even better too.

    "I know there’s still so much more to give. I still think I’m a young player. Going into the new season, I’ll be 25 and I think it’s hard to hit your prime by then. As a midfielder, you probably hit your prime a lot younger, it’s hard to keep the legs for so long. But for me I know there’s more to give in the tank and it excites me," she explains.

    "There’s parts of my game that I have not mastered, but I’ve only been playing in midfield for a year and a half. I’m eager to learn whatever’s out there for me to learn. I’m listening to the manager, whatever she’s saying to me. I’m using all that."

    Having a player who is so well-versed in the club's culture will be particularly important for Chelsea as they head into a summer that could see them part ways with the likes of Magdalena Eriksson and the recently-fit-again Pernille Harder. Cuthbert is still loving life at Kingsmeadow and admits it would be hard to find a club she suits as well as Chelsea.

    "Of course, you think of [eventually moving on], but I wouldn’t have signed my deal at Chelsea if I didn’t want to be here for the next couple of years. What I do after that is a different conversation. Nothing is forever right?" she reflects.

    "I’ve been at Chelsea for a long time. I love the club, I’ve gained a real affinity with the fans, with the badge. I get what it means to play for Chelsea, I really, really do. It would be hard for anything else to match that. But I’d be silly not keep my options open."