Chelsea saw off Manchester United in the Women’s Continental League Cup semi-finals to maintain their challenge of a third successive title.
Chelsea scored three goals in 13 first-half minutes, before United goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley was sent off later on.
Pernille Harder opened the scoring after a sublime skilful run and Jessie Fleming’s header looped in a second.
Vilde Boe Risa got one back for United but Chelsea’s Jess Carter made it 3-1 before half-time.
Things got worse for United after the break when substitute Sam Kerr – who only returned from international duty on Tuesday morning – was clattered into by Baggaley outside the box.
The straight red card meant United played the final 10 minutes with 10 players but Chelsea had got the job done in the first half.
The back-to-back defending champions will face either Manchester City or Tottenham – who play in the second semi-final on Thursday – in the final on 5 March in Wimbledon.
The Blues started off strongly as Harder had a shot blocked and saw one fly over the bar before she eventually left defender Aoife Mannion scrambling in the box to slot in the opener.
Five minutes later, Chelsea had doubled their lead when Fleming was left unmarked to head a loose ball over Baggaley from close range.
United responded well – Jackie Groenen and Boe Risa combining with a backheel on the left before the summer signing fired it past Zecira Musovic at the near post.
That gave United a brief burst of energy, but only for a short while, as Carter’s lung-bursting run into the box regained Chelsea’s two-goal advantage shortly before half-time.
United remained a threat from set-pieces with Martha Thomas having a presence in the air but Chelsea looked assured throughout and Harder continued to cause problems with her pace.
There was a debut for Manchester United’s January signing Signe Bruun, who came off the bench in the 67th minute, but she was unable to make an impact.
Meanwhile, Chelsea welcomed back Kerr and there were valuable minutes for former United star Lauren James as a substitute.
Victory for Chelsea was also the perfect way to kickstart a big month as crucial Women’s Super League fixtures at home to rivals Manchester City and Arsenal follow, before an FA Cup fifth-round test against Leicester City.
It was United’s first defeat in normal time since 21 November – they also lost 6-1 to Chelsea in September.
Former England and Arsenal striker Kelly Smith on BBC Red Button:
“It’s a learning curve for Manchester United. They have lost a couple of semi-finals now including this one. They have to learn from it, grow from it and try to understand why they lost the game.
“They will go away and analyse that. [Manager] Marc Skinner is a winner. They will certainly learn from this. They want to compete in finals and play Champions League football.”
‘That’s what we’re chasing’ – reaction
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes on Pernille Harder: “I think she was due that [goal]. She’s had to play in this period back-to-back in many different roles. For her own confidence, that goal was important.
“She’s had to play as nine, not necessarily her natural position but she plays it well. I thought she turned Aoife Mannion inside-out for the goal. I thought she was a threat all night and she was a pest.”
Manchester United manager Marc Skinner: “That’s what we’re chasing. If we want to be the team we want to be, we have to beat Arsenal and we have to beat Chelsea. We know that’s part of our destiny.
“We need to take these learning curves now. We’ve grown and we’ll keep growing. I just want us to have that personality in the first half that we had in the second half.”
- 11ReitenSubstituted forAbdullinaat 90′minutes
- 25AnderssonSubstituted forSpenceat 86′minutes
- 21CharlesBooked at 87mins
- 23HarderSubstituted forJamesat 85′minutes
- 17FlemingSubstituted forKerrat 68′minutes
Man Utd Women
- 32BaggaleyBooked at 77mins
- 14GroenenSubstituted forFusoat 67′minutes
- 9ThomasSubstituted forBruunat 67′minutes
- 23RussoSubstituted forEarpsat 80′minutes
- Paul Howard
Match ends, Chelsea Women 3, Manchester United Women 1.
Second Half ends, Chelsea Women 3, Manchester United Women 1.
Katie Zelem (Manchester United Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Drew Spence (Chelsea Women).
Ivana Fuso (Manchester United Women) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Erin Cuthbert (Chelsea Women).
Attempt missed. Millie Bright (Chelsea Women) header from the right side of the six yard box is close, but misses the top right corner. Assisted by Erin Cuthbert with a cross following a set piece situation.
Foul by Katie Zelem (Manchester United Women).
Lauren James (Chelsea Women) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt missed. Sophie Ingle (Chelsea Women) right footed shot from the centre of the box is too high following a corner.
Corner, Chelsea Women. Conceded by Maria Thorisdottir.
Substitution, Chelsea Women. Alsu Abdullina replaces Guro Reiten.
Corner, Chelsea Women. Conceded by Maria Thorisdottir.
Guro Reiten (Chelsea Women) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Ona Batlle (Manchester United Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Guro Reiten (Chelsea Women).
Ivana Fuso (Manchester United Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Niamh Charles (Chelsea Women).
Attempt blocked. Lauren James (Chelsea Women) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Drew Spence.
Substitution, Chelsea Women. Drew Spence replaces Jonna Andersson.