Emotional win leaves Chelsea on brink of greatness
As the final whistle blew on Chelsea’s 4-1 win over Bayern Munich I had tears in my eyes, knowing what the result would mean to Emma Hayes and her team, and for women’s football in this country. The game was mesmerising, emotional and breathless until the death.
After losing the first leg 2-1 Chelsea knew the task ahead. Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby combined – for the 46th time this season – for the first goal in the 10th minute. Game on. Sarah Zadrazil scored a 25-yard rocket to send the teams in at the break at 1-1, with Bayern ahead on aggregate. Ji So-yun, Hayes’ first marquee signing back in 2014, got Chelsea’s second when her free-kick hit the wall but rebounded back to her, and this time she shot accurately into the bottom corner past an unsighted goalkeeper.
Extra time was looming when Pernille Harder headed Chelsea into the lead from Jess Carter’s excellent free-kick, and a nail-biting final quarter-hour ensued. If Bayern scored they would have won on away goals and they were dangerous, particularly from set pieces. From a corner Ann-Katrin Berger pulled off what for her is a typical save: brilliant reflexes, down low to her left with her toe.
Bayern threw everything forward and in the 95th minute, with the keeper up for a corner, Chelsea broke and Kirby slotted into an empty net. The WSL is now the best league in the world, and only Barcelona can stop Chelsea proving that by winning the most important title in the sport.
Arsenal wrap up European spot
In Joe Montemurro’s penultimate game in charge Arsenal secured third place, and Champions League qualification. They left it late: after Katie McCabe was brought down Kim Little scored from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game to seal it. The Gunners dominated all the stats – Everton scored with their only shot on target – and they have ended the season with a brilliant run of eight successive victories, including one against their rivals for third place, Manchester United.
Meg Finnigan’s goal for Everton, heading home after Arsenal were caught out by a quick throw, was the first the Gunners had conceded since early February. It remains to be seen who will replace Montemurro, with one of the people linked with the role, Jayne Ludlow, taking up a position as technical director of the girls’ academy at Manchester City last week.
Williams ready to take coaching by storm
Fara Williams announced her retirement last week, and played her final home game as Reading beat Brighton 3-2, scoring the opener from the penalty spot. She is a legend of the game having won won 172 England caps, more than any other player, and was my roommate on international duty for over 10 years. We won the FA Cup together at Everton, and by this point she had already been through a lot of personal trouble – she was homeless, living in a hostel and coming up to train at Everton. She has been through so much, and is a role model and an inspiration to so many.
Fara also has the best football brain of any player I’ve played alongside. She always wanted to develop herself as a player, to learn more about the game, the tactics and the personalities. At 37 I’ve no doubt she would still have been asking the most questions out of anybody to her coach about the fine details of the game, because she has a burning desire to learn. More recently she has battled a serious kidney condition, and she will now move into coaching and I have no doubt become one of the very best. She is a close friend and someone I admire for everything she has done, both on and off the pitch.
City take title chase into final week
Manchester City beat Birmingham 4-0 to go top of the WSL, with Chelsea not playing until Wednesday because of their Champions League commitments. They were massively dominant – 82% possession and 27 shots to their opponents’ one tells the story – came close top opening the scoring in the first minute, and eventually eased to victory though the match was marred by an injury to Chloe Kelly, who having headed in their first two goals was stretchered off in the second half, leaving her a doubt for the Olympics.
City have done everything they could do keep the pressure on Chelsea, and now just have to wait to see if Spurs can do them a favour in midweek. Though they are only three points ahead of bottom-placed Bristol City, Birmingham’s goal difference is so superior that they are already safe.
Relegation battle down to last two
We go into the final weekend of the season not knowing who will win the league, or who will go down. The WSL has certainly delivered drama, and it looks like it will keep going until the final whistle.
At the bottom Aston Villa played their third match in a row against key relegation rivals, and for the third time they drew. At least against West Ham they didn’t let in a last-minute equaliser, as they had against both Bristol and Birmingham. It was as entertaining as goalless draws get – with 38 there were more shots than in any other WSL match this weekend, and the fact that none of them went in is maybe an indicator of where these teams have fallen short.
With Bristol losing 1-0 to Manchester United Villa managed to extend their advantage to two points, and given their better goal difference a point on the final weekend will mean they are safe. Unfortunately they are playing away at Arsenal, while Bristol have a difficult but more winnable fixture at Brighton, a team with nothing to play for while Bristol have everything on the line.
Villa’s main objective would have been survival, but they will be disappointed that it’s still in the balance going into the final day. Bristol have some serious disadvantages in a league now full of teams supported by Premier League clubs, but while they are honest about what they don’t have they don’t bang on about it, they just get on with it. A lot of things have gone against them, and it would be a massive achievement for them to stay up. A win will probably be enough.