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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Jack Lacey-Hatton

Women's FA Cup talking points as Man Utd face underdogs and Chelsea chase treble

The WSL takes a week off on Sunday but there is no let-up in the domestic women's football action with four last eight ties in the Women's FA Cup taking centre stage.

Championship-side Lewes are the lowest ranked team left in the competition and will be out to cause one of the biggest shocks in recent history when they host WSL high-fliers Man Utd at the dripping pan. The other standout tie is an all top-flight clash between title-chasers Man City and Aston Villa.

City reached the final last season and have been in good form recently, but have failed to beat a resurgent Villa in two league meetings so far this season. With the Villans looking good in the WSL, currently in fifth with seven games to play, could they complete a dream campaign with an FA Cup triumph?

Here are the big talking points ahead of a big day of cup football.

Top scorers do battle as City hope for third time lucky

Khadija 'Bunny' Shaw and Rachel Daly are both streaks clear at the top of the WSL goalscoring charts, with 15 and 11 respectively. Shaw in fact now has 25 goals in all competitions, a City record.

Both in-form forwards will need to at the top of their game Sunday to help their side to the last four of the tournament. Villa will be confident after beating City on the opening day of the WSL season in a seven-goal thriller and getting a draw at the Academy Stadium in January.

Their boss Carla Ward still insisted her team are the underdogs for this one, but her opposite number Gareth Taylor disagreed. "It is a tough match, probably the toughest in their," said Taylor. "It is two teams that are doing well in the WSL. There is a different mentality at Villa now, I felt that before the first game of the season.

Man City got past Bristol City in the last round (PA)

"It is easy for Carla to say that they're underdogs, but I think the form they have shown this season levels things out massively."

Can Championship Lewes give Man United a scare?

After seeing off Cardiff City Ladies in the last round, Lewes are the lowest ranked side still in the cup. The Championship side currently sit seventh in the second tier and will welcome one of the favourites to go on and win the trophy when Man Utd come to the Dripping Pan on Sunday for a 12:30 kick off.

The 3,000 capacity ground will be a far cry from Wembley likes of Alessia Russo, Ella Toone and Mary Earps, and United's players will have to adapt quickly to the surroundings, having already been given a scare by Championship opposition, in the form of Sunderland, back in round four. Regardless of what happens on the pitch Lewes have put the main event spotlight to good use.

Players from the Sussex club have penned an open letter calling for equal prize money between the men's and women's tournaments. But Lewes have a history of fighting for female footballers rights and first narrowed the gender pay gap in 2017 with their groundbreaking initiative, EqualityFC, which saw them pledge and commit to running a football club led on equal pay, budgets and resources for its male and female players.

It will be a tough ask for those players to beat an in-form Man Utd side, but Marc Skinner will take nothing for granted. Who knows? The magic of the cup could well be sweeping around the Dripping Pan this weekend.

Chelsea look to keep treble hopes alive

Chelsea travel to Reading in the second all-WSL tie of the round. The Blues have won this competition the last two years running and after knocking out Arsenal in the previous round will be confident of reaching another final.

But Reading did give them a scare in the last WSL meeting between the two in December, where Chelsea raced into a 3-0 lead the break, only for the Royals to very nearly steal a point after a second-half fightback, going down 3-2. They will be the first test in a pivotal week for the Blues, who also have a Champions League qaurter-finaltie with Lyon in midweek, before facing Man City away in the WSL.

Blues manager Emma Hayes said: "We've just got to roll with it. This is just par for the course for this time of the year. The whole squad has worked so hard to put us in this decision. We've built a team to deal with this kind of situation, but we want to compete and for everybody to play their part.

Chelsea celebrate after winning the FA Cup last season (Getty Images)

"This will come into play over the next few weeks. We are going to need every single player."

Emma Hayes reiterates equal prize money call

Speaking of the Chelsea boss, Hayes also reiterated her calls for equal prize money in the men's and women's FA cups. It came in the week where the Lewes squad penned an open letter ahead of their game with United, saying that if the men's team had done the same they would have earned £450,000 rather than £45,000.

It is an issue Hayes has spoken up on before and was again about the issue, with FIFA also announcing this week that they will be aiming for equal prize money in the men's and women's World Cups by 2027.

"The important issue around prize money," said Hayes. "Is not about the top teams. I talk about it for the teams throughout the pyramid. Teams need to be able to host an FA Cup game and get something financially from it.

"That is equally critical to what the winners get. Of course it isn't at the level we want it to be at, my hope is that one day the smaller clubs will be looked after."

Brighton look for respite from league with Merricks at the wheel

Brighton are having a tough season in the WSL, with manager Jens Scheuer becoming the second boss to leave the club this campaign, only last week after six games in charge. Hope Powell was dismissed back in October and the Seagulls haven't improved much since, still threatened by relegation to the Championship.

But they have managed to reach the last eight of the FA Cup, which has brought some welcome respite from their struggles in the lead. A quarter-final away to Birmingham, currently fourth in the Championship, presents a superb chance to reach the last four.

Amy Merricks is in charge as interim boss for the second time this season. And although she is yet to win, Merricks has overseen a huge improvement in performances, with Albion only losing narrowly to Man City after a dramatic late winner from Bunny Shaw in their last game.

Only four days before they had lost 3-1 at Chelsea, but the scoreline probably wasn't a fair reflection of how well they played. If Merricks can lead them to the last four of the cup, she will not only do no harm to her chances of landing the job permanently, but also bring back that winning feeling ahead of a crucial WSL run-in that will determine what league they play in next season.

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