‘Not many teams can stay with us’

LONDON — Chelsea emerged from the tunnel for the second half at Kingsmeadow Stadium on Sunday with simply 45 minutes to settle a Girls’s Tremendous League season like no different. Little had gone proper earlier than then. They’d 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’ll bear in mind it as a interval after they had been pushed to their restrict like by no means earlier than. The stakes couldn’t have been greater: They had been taking part in on the ultimate day of a drama-filled WSL season, only a single level forward of second-place Arsenal, who had been taking part in 21 miles to the east towards West Ham United on the opposite facet 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 house recreation towards 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: Together with her facet trailing, she picked a floating ball out of the sky and thundered a weak-footed volley from the sting of the field. It could be the second Chelsea turned the tide, after 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.

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It was the proper option 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 girls’s league on the planet because it continues to make unbelievable progress. (Its broadcast take care of Sky Sports activities and the BBC this season is essentially the most beneficial home broadcast contract in girls’s soccer.)

And getting into its finale, it was on the high of the desk that the motion reached a fever pitch. There was drama all over the place: Arsenal and Chelsea chasing the title, third-place Manchester Metropolis 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’s typically troublesome to inform when title races start, precisely. They don’t seem to be constructed, constructed or manufactured. As an alternative, 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 Video games three weeks prior. Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall, managing in his first WSL recreation, took a danger to play his greatest gamers.

After the match, Hayes made a sensible commentary: “Arsenal gave their players no time off whatsoever. It’s a long season, and the reason I say it’s a long season is, yes, the advantage might be there today, but my job is to keep everybody on the pitch for the whole 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 high of the league. Heading into the ultimate day, Chelsea had gained their previous eight WSL video games. Solely as soon as earlier than of their historical past had they gained 9 on the bounce. Arsenal had pushed them to the boundaries of their consistency, to their fixed greatest.

That set the stage for Sunday. Hayes careworn consistency within the build-up: It could be a traditional week, gamers would practice and play as they all the time 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 telephone, 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 house a belting half-volley to ship the packed house crowd into an eruption. Good cash would have been to again Chelsea (the facet that claimed a home treble final season, who’ve turn 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. Stress once more took its toll and the sudden reigned supreme. Chelsea’s passing was not as crisp as traditional, their assaults unusually snuffed. Inside 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 the whole lot modified. They performed with a better 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 person 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 stage.

Kerr ran over to Hayes with a beaming smile, describing the match as their “destiny.” She knew, simply as along with her volley, precisely what was about to occur.

“That shows confidence,” Hayes mentioned. “I always said [to Kerr] come to Chelsea and you’ll win trophies here … We’re both perfectly suited for 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 Tougher down the left flank to permit the Germany worldwide to roll a go inside to Reiten, who fired house. 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’ facet continued their dynasty, profitable their third consecutive WSL title, and their fourth previously 5 years.

The victory might be cherished, though there’s nonetheless work to be performed at Chelsea. They’ve 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 in-built west London. Additionally they have subsequent Sunday’s Girls’s FA Cup closing (9:20 a.m. ET, stream stay on ESPN+) to arrange for, the place they’ll face Metropolis and hope to convey house but extra silverware to an more and more packed trophy cupboard.

That’s all for one more day, although. Hayes’ facet will relaxation simple on Sunday, understanding they stood as much as the check, proving once more they’re nonetheless on the high of the pile.

“I just knew we were going to win,” Kerr mentioned in a post-match information convention. “When we get going like that, not many teams can stay with us.”

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