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. They had been sloppy, ill-disciplined and missing in tempo. For all their expertise, Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes mentioned she felt like substituting numerous them.
That’s why, when Chelsea look again on this title-winning season, they are going to bear in mind it as a interval once they had been pushed to their restrict like by no means earlier than. The stakes couldn’t have been increased: They had been enjoying on the ultimate day of a drama-filled WSL season, only a single level forward of second-place Arsenal, who had been enjoying 21 miles to the east in opposition to West Ham United on the opposite aspect of the town. Whoever achieved the higher outcome would win the title. The league even ensured there was a trophy at every of the 2 matches.
Chelsea entered their dwelling recreation in opposition to Manchester United on Sunday as clear favourites, and but nothing had gone proper. That’s when the WSL’s main scorer, striker Sam Kerr, took the sport into her personal arms.
She had been telling teammates the day earlier than that she would rating a “worldie.” She had visualised it, assured in her potential to ship within the greatest moments. Her prediction got here true: 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 can 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 web.
It was the proper solution to finish a landmark season, one which was absolutely probably the most entertaining in WSL historical past. The league can stake a significant declare for being probably the most aggressive main girls’s league on the earth because it continues to make unimaginable progress. (Its broadcast deal with Sky Sports and the BBC this season is probably the most invaluable home broadcast contract in girls’s soccer.)
And getting 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, fourth-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 had been there to complete their journey.
It is commonly tough to inform when title races start, precisely. They are usually not constructed, constructed or manufactured. Instead, 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 vital 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 had been nonetheless recovering from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic 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 smart remark: “Arsenal gave their gamers no day off by any means. It’s an extended season, and the rationale I say it is a lengthy season is, sure, the benefit is perhaps there at this time, however my job is to maintain everyone on the pitch for the entire season.”
She was proper.
Arsenal obtained 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 gained their previous eight WSL video games. Only as soon as earlier than of their historical past had they gained 9 on the bounce. Arsenal had pushed them to the bounds of their consistency, to their fixed finest.
That set the stage for Sunday. Hayes harassed consistency within the build-up: It can 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 objective 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 objective.
Chelsea hit again when Erin Cuthbert was alive within the field from a nook and thrashed dwelling a belting half-volley to ship the packed dwelling crowd into an eruption. Smart cash would have been to again Chelsea (the aspect that claimed a home treble final season, who’ve develop into perennial WSL champions) to go on to keep up their momentum and preserve their composure, however that is precisely what made this closing day so thrilling. Pressure once more took its toll and the surprising reigned supreme. Chelsea’s passing was not as crisp as typical, their assaults unusually snuffed. Within 10 minutes, United went again forward with a volley on the again submit from ahead Ella Toone.
Chelsea, then, had been lastly pushed to their absolute restrict. Hayes tweaked the form at half-time and introduced on midfielder Ji So-Yun, and every part modified. They performed with the next line, now lastly on the entrance foot. That’s 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 web, 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 with her volley, precisely what was about to occur.
“That reveals confidence,” Hayes mentioned. “I at all times mentioned [to Kerr] come to Chelsea and you will 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 one way or the other, 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 go inside to Reiten, who fired dwelling. Then got here one other second of Kerr brilliance: she noticed a deflection 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, profitable their third consecutive WSL title, and their fourth up to now 5 years.
The victory shall be cherished, though there may be nonetheless work to be achieved at Chelsea. They have seven gamers out of contract this summer time, with pending new homeowners — led by LA Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly — tasked with sustaining the dynasty Hayes has inbuilt west London. They even have subsequent Sunday’s Women’s FA Cup closing (9:20 a.m. ET, stream dwell on ESPN+) to organize for, the place they are going to face City and hope to convey dwelling but extra silverware to an more and more packed trophy cupboard.
That is all for one more day, although. Hayes’ aspect will relaxation straightforward 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 had been going to win,” Kerr mentioned in a post-match information convention. “When we get going like that, not many teams can stay with us.”