LONDON — Chelsea emerged from the tunnel for the second half at Kingsmeadow Stadium on Sunday with simply 45 minutes to settle a Women’s Super League season like no different. Little had gone proper earlier than then. That they had been sloppy, ill-disciplined and missing in tempo. For all their expertise, Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes mentioned she felt like substituting plenty of them.
That is why, when Chelsea look again on this title-winning season, they may keep in mind it as a interval once they have been pushed to their restrict like by no means earlier than. The stakes couldn’t have been increased: They have been enjoying on the ultimate day of a drama-filled WSL season, only a single level forward of second-place Arsenal, who have been enjoying 21 miles to the east in opposition to West Ham United on the opposite aspect of town. Whoever achieved the higher consequence would win the title. The league even ensured there was a trophy at every of the 2 matches.
Chelsea entered their residence recreation in opposition to Manchester United on Sunday as clear favourites, and but nothing had gone proper. That is when the WSL’s main scorer, striker Sam Kerr, took the sport into her personal palms.
She had been telling teammates the day earlier than that she would rating a “worldie.” She had visualised it, assured in her capacity to ship within the greatest moments. Her prediction got here true: Along with her aspect trailing, she picked a floating ball out of the sky and thundered a weak-footed volley from the sting of the field. It might be the second Chelsea turned the tide, once they lastly seized the chance forward of them. Winger Guro Reiten despatched them forward earlier than Kerr took centre stage once more, sending one other long-range volley into the again of the online.
It was the proper method to finish a landmark season, one which was certainly essentially the most entertaining in WSL historical past. The league can stake a serious declare for being essentially the most aggressive main ladies’s league on this planet because it continues to make unbelievable development. (Its broadcast cope with Sky Sports activities and the BBC this season is essentially the most priceless home broadcast contract in ladies’s soccer.)
And coming into its finale, it was on the prime of the desk that the motion reached a fever pitch. There was drama in every single place: Arsenal and Chelsea chasing the title, third-place Manchester City needing only a level to seal one other season of Champions League soccer as fourth-place United hoped to pip them to it. At Kingsmeadow, Chelsea have been there to complete their journey.
It’s usually troublesome to inform when title races start, precisely. They aren’t constructed, constructed or manufactured. As a substitute, they’re like a dissipating fog; at first they stand unclear earlier than an image emerges, and the picture grows vivid. This season’s WSL race, although, started on the opening day. Chelsea confronted Arsenal on the Emirates, and the hosts edged to an essential 3-2 win. That was when the simmering managerial thoughts video games between the pair’s head coaches started, too.
Hayes had rested stars that day — notably Kerr and Fran Kirby, who have been nonetheless recovering from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Video games three weeks prior. Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall, managing in his first WSL recreation, took a danger to play his finest gamers.
After the match, Hayes made a clever commentary: “Arsenal gave their gamers no day without work in any respect. It is a lengthy season, and the explanation I say it is a lengthy season is, sure, the benefit is perhaps there immediately, however my job is to maintain everyone on the pitch for the entire season.”
She was proper.
Arsenal bought off to a quick begin however started to falter round January as Champions League commitments mounted, whereas Chelsea grew evermore into the marketing campaign. They thrashed Arsenal in a 3-0 win throughout final season’s belated FA Cup closing, held in December. By March, they’d taken their place on the prime of the league. Heading into the ultimate day, Chelsea had received their previous eight WSL video games. Solely as soon as earlier than of their historical past had they received 9 on the bounce. Arsenal had pushed them to the boundaries of their consistency, to their fixed finest.
That set the stage for Sunday. Hayes confused consistency within the build-up: It might be a traditional week, gamers would prepare and play as they at all times did, delivering a much-needed win. Chelsea had a transparent plan, till United delivered the proverbial punch within the mouth. Martha Thomas headed in from a deep free kick to ship her season forward and transfer goalless Arsenal, briefly, into the primary place on purpose distinction. Arsenal substitute Jordan Nobbs sat on the bench watching the Chelsea match on her cellphone, roaring with pleasure on the sight of each United purpose.
Chelsea hit again when Erin Cuthbert was alive within the field from a nook and thrashed residence a belting half-volley to ship the packed residence crowd into an eruption. Sensible cash would have been to again Chelsea (the aspect that claimed a home treble final season, who’ve change into perennial WSL champions) to go on to take care of their momentum and hold their composure, however that is precisely what made this closing day so thrilling. Stress once more took its toll and the sudden reigned supreme. Chelsea’s passing was not as crisp as regular, their assaults unusually snuffed. Inside 10 minutes, United went again forward with a volley on the again publish from ahead Ella Toone.
Chelsea, then, have been lastly pushed to their absolute restrict. Hayes tweaked the form at half-time and introduced on midfielder Ji So-Yun, and all the things modified. They performed with the next line, now lastly on the entrance foot. That is the place Kerr’s genius was required, when a world-class end was what was wanted, and maybe no one knew greater than her simply what was about to occur. When her left boot thundered the volley to the again of the online, the momentum turned. The scores now degree.
Kerr ran over to Hayes with a beaming smile, describing the match as their “future.” She knew, simply as together with her volley, precisely what was about to occur.
“That exhibits confidence,” Hayes mentioned. “I at all times mentioned [to Kerr] come to Chelsea and you may win trophies right here … We’re each completely suited to Chelsea.”
Arsenal broke the impasse at West Ham, returning them again to the highest of the desk, however someway, it appeared apparent that Chelsea would go on to win. And it solely took a number of extra minutes: Ji proved her high quality once more, sliding in ahead Pernille Harder down the left flank to permit the Germany worldwide to roll a cross inside to Reiten, who fired residence. Then got here one other second of Kerr brilliance: she noticed a header drop out of the air at 25 yards out earlier than chesting it down and volleying previous goalkeeper Mary Earps.
A 4-2 victory for Chelsea meant Arsenal’s 2-0 win at West Ham didn’t change the league standings. It meant Hayes’ aspect continued their dynasty, successful their third consecutive WSL title, and their fourth prior to now 5 years.
The victory shall be cherished, though there may be nonetheless work to be performed at Chelsea. They’ve seven gamers out of contract this summer time, with pending new house owners — led by LA Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly — tasked with sustaining the dynasty Hayes has in-built west London. In addition they have subsequent Sunday’s Girls’s FA Cup closing (9:20 a.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) to organize for, the place they may face Metropolis and hope to carry residence but extra silverware to an more and more packed trophy cupboard.
That’s all for one more day, although. Hayes’ aspect will relaxation simple on Sunday, understanding they stood as much as the take a look at, proving once more they’re nonetheless on the prime of the pile.
“I simply knew we have been going to win,” Kerr mentioned in a post-match information convention. “Once we get going like that, not many groups can stick with us.”