Sam Kerr double for Chelsea against Manchester United secures WSL title | Women’s Super League

Two impressive volleys from Sam Kerr helped Chelsea secure a third successive Women’s Super League title as they twice won the score to clinch a thrilling 4-2 victory over Manchester United.

With Arsenal a point behind the champions, the fate of the WSL trophy swung between north and southwest London as United pressured Chelsea in a crowded, sunny Kingsmeadow.

The title was for Chelsea to lose, but they were playing against a United team that had a chance to reach the Champions League for the first time. After a shaky, injury-ridden start to the season, Manchester City returned to third place with a two-point lead over United in fourth. United needed a win here and for Reading to take points from City.

United striker Martha Thomas gave her team the edge that would send away fans 40km to the northeast, where West Ham faced second-placed Arsenal, and away fans in the corner at Kingsmeadow, wild with hope.

Chelsea reacted with a powerful effort from Erin Cuthbert five minutes later, but the visitors regained the lead before half-time thanks to a low shot by Ella Toone.

United manager Marc Skinner said ahead of the game: “Not only do we have nothing to lose and everything to gain, it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to show how energetic we can be at the end of the season.”

His team started off exactly as he had hoped, with an intensity suited to a team ready to push and disrupt things at the top of the table next season.

Moving the bar chart
Illustration: Guardian Design

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The home side were so stunned – almost fans, when United threatened to take away the title – that coach Emma Hayes thought about making changes within half an hour, but held on until half-time. “I could have eliminated a lot of players at halftime, being brutally honest,” she said.

“I felt like we thought a lot about losing in the first half – it makes you look tired, you look drained. Suddenly we go out in the second half, I say to the team in a huddle, ‘Listen, hit the first press, hit the first shot, do it together, don’t fall apart’, and it’s not bloody rocket science, that’s it, that we’ve done enough together and delivered.”

No season can top the end of 2014, but this came close. Then Chelsea collapsed, giving up a two-point lead over Birmingham and a three-point lead over Liverpool, who moved from third place to be champions on the final day.

Here, Chelsea got out of trouble, as they have done so many times during this title race. Once they usurped Arsenal at the top of the table, there was no way they could step down.

Ella Toone celebrates goal for Manchester United Women against Chelsea Women
Ella Toone celebrates a goal for Manchester United Women against Chelsea Women. Photography: Pedro Soares/SPP/Shutterstock

“No matter what we do in terms of the team we put in, or the tactics we set up, the team has the ability to get through that when something doesn’t go right,” Hayes said.

It took 50 seconds into the second half for Chelsea to equalize when Kerr fired a volley into the top corner. Five minutes later Chelsea were back at the top of the table – a draw wouldn’t have been enough, with Arsenal beating West Ham. Ji So-yun passed the ball to Pernille Harder on the left and the Danish forward crossed low to Guro Reiten from the side.

With the stadium swaying and the momentum in Chelsea’s favor, an audacious goal from Kerr, the 20th of the Golden Boot winner’s campaign, extended the lead and tightened his grip on the title. Mary Earps’ pass was intercepted by Reiten, who headed it to Kerr and the Australia forward, 25 yards and with her back to goal, cushioned the ball in her chest before turning and sending a looped volley into the net.

“She’s a wonderfully energetic, forward-thinking space hunter,” Skinner said of Kerr, whom he ran into when he was manager of the Orlando Pride and Kerr was with the Chicago Red Stars. With Manchester City winning 4-0 over Reading, the result at Kingsmeadow mattered little in the end for United.

“In Birmingham [where Skinner was before he joined Orlando] we were fourth with the worst budget in the league, other than Bristol, probably for around 15p, but I believe in my coaching staff, our energy and our ambition and if there’s anyone who can close the gap on that alone, it’s our team. , but we have to invest and improve physicality.

“If we don’t recruit, it doesn’t matter what we learn this season. We have to recruit to close the gap, because other teams have done and will continue to do so.”

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