Reiten's, Maanum's parallel paths in Norway intersect in League Cup final between Chelsea, Arsenal

Due to meet for a third time this calendar year this weekend in the Women's League Cup final, Chelsea and Arsenal have only a finite number of similarities, but one commonality between the two is the importance of their respective Norwegian midfielders: Guro Reiten and Frida Leonhardsen Maanum.

Although Reiten (Chelsea) and Maanum (Arsenal) go about their business differently on the pitch, both have been key in attack for their respective London-based WSL teams this season. If we go back six years, though, the two could have been on different footballing paths, as current Norway coach Hege Riise explained to ESPN, both players were on her radar ahead of the 2017 Toppserien season when she was head coach at LSK.

Ultimately, Riise opted to sign Reiten from Trondheims-Ørn, which proved to be crucial for the winger's development, with her goal return almost tripling at her new club. The level at LSK and mentality in the team are items the coach attributes to Reiten's growth at the Oslo club, with the then-22-year-old swiftly developing into one of the best players in the Norwegian league.

As Riise recalls, she had spoken to both Reiten and Maanum ahead of the 2017 season in her search for her new No. 10 but Maanum, who was still just 17 at the time, was steadfast in her need for playing time, and once Reiten was on board with the move to LSK, her teenage compatriot opted to move to a different Oslo outfit: Stabæk. The move lasted for only half a season before the midfielder moved on, signing a professional deal with the then Swedish champions, Linköpings, as soon as she was 18.

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

The two players continued to develop as they became regulars in the Norwegian senior team, with both representing their nation at the 2017 Euros, although there was little question that their best football ended up being played domestically, where they were allowed to occupy freer roles in for their club teams.

After 2½ years at LSK that had seen Reiten rapidly develop into a star, affording her the room to be talked about in the same breath as other Norwegian giants like Ada Hegerberg and Caroline Graham Hansen, Reiten was drawing a lot of attention from outside of Norway. It wasn't long until Chelsea came calling.

Taking up a different role for the Blues, the midfielder's first two seasons at the WSL champions were littered with inconsistencies. Even though she had performed well enough in attack over her first term with the club, her minutes the following season drastically dropped as she became a go-to off the bench rather than a starter.

It wasn't until last season, after she had been trialled across multiple positions on Chelsea's left, that Reiten finally cemented her place in the starting XI for Emma Hayes' side, as her partnerships with the Blues' other attacking pieces strengthened. Utilised more as a left winger, who has rounded out the defensive side of her game since moving to England, no one in WSL has as many assists as Reiten this season (9), with the Norwegian a consistent performer in what's been an underwhelming season for Chelsea.

Across London, Maanum has similarly carved out a niche for herself in the Arsenal squad after joining ahead of the start of the 2021-22 season. Like Reiten, the stocky midfielder had been trialled in several positions, but with injuries forcing the hand of manager Jonas Eidevall, Maanum has continued to shine as the Gunners' season has begun to dull.

Having moved from more of a No. 8 to a No. 10 for Arsenal, Maanum has more license to maraud forward. At times, since the Gunners' lost both Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema to ACL injuries, she has looked to be the most likely source of a goal.

Whereas Reiten has consistently been involved in the build-up for Chelsea, happy to find players such as Sam Kerr with pinged balls from deep or searching crosses from within the final third, the onus has moved to Maanum to take more responsibility for goal scoring. Even with key players such as Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder out of action for Chelsea, there remains a strong balance in the Blues' attack, which feeds into Reiten's natural game as the WSL champions can boast a far more balanced attack with Kerr and dribbling maestro Lauren James balancing the load.

However, Arsenal have yet to find the balance, with too many creative players in the team; the type who would rather claim an assist than a goal, which is one of the many factors in the Gunners' recent poor goals return and decreasing shot conversion rates. That would explain why Maanum, a self-confessed No. 10, has often found herself the furthest player forward, leading the attack at points this calendar year and unafraid to try her hand. Yet clearly lauded by Eidevall for her stamina and athletic ability, it's likely the rangy Norwegian will be asked to continue in her midfield role and put in the hard yards over the course of each match, rather than looking to take up more advanced positions around the box.

The need to balance their positions is something both Reiten and Maanum are used to doing for club and country. Now, though, with Riise in charge of the Norwegian national team, they are operating as dual No. 8s, sticking to more central areas.

As two players who have lined up next to each other for Norway countless times, the two will again be squaring off this weekend with the first piece of silverware of the season on the line. Although both will be key for their teams on Sunday, only one will walk away victorious.