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Chelsea had two spectacular goals from Sam Kerr to thank for a 4-2 win over Manchester United on the final day of the WSL season, securing the Blues a third consecutive title after initially looking in danger of wilting under the pressure of the occasion.
Martha Thomas gave United an early lead, which was cancelled out by Erin Cuthbert. Ella Toone restored the lead for the visitors, but Guro Reiten brought Emma Hayes’ team back on level terms again, before Kerr’s individual brilliance eventually settled it in Chelsea’s favour.
It was United who were the better team in the early stages – neutrals might have been forgiven for wondering which team was fighting for the title – with Chelsea looking distinctly nervous.
A goal-mouth scramble in the Chelsea box in the opening exchanges was a warning sign, but the visitors dominated possession and were well worth their breakthrough goal when Thomas flicked a pinpoint Katie Zelem free kick beyond the reach of Ann-Katrin Berger.
Cuthbert’s goal showcased great quality and composure, driving the ball low into the far corner after United failed to deal with Jess Carter’s long throw from the right.
But the equaliser didn’t dampen the spirits of Marc Skinner’s team. Alessia Russo soon headed just over from close range when an unconvincing Berger flapped at a corner and they deservingly retook the lead midway through the half when Toone met a Leah Galton cross at the far post – her volley taking a deflection to beat the wrong-footed Berger.
The jubilant pre-match atmosphere in the Kingsmeadow stands had fallen noticeably flat by the time the half-time whistle sounded as Chelsea fans looked on nervously.
In first-half stoppage time, Toone went for the spectacular when she tried to catch Berger out with a looping shot from out wide, but the German stopper was equal to it.
Having presumably had a stern talking to during the interval, Chelsea needed less than a minute after the restart to equalise for the second time. Kerr’s volley is a contender for goal of the season, smashing it goalward after Cuthbert’s initial shot looped up in the air from Hayley Ladd’s block.
Chelsea had made a double substitution at half-time and the impact of Ji So-yun off the bench soon told when she carved open the United defence to put Pernille Harder through, who in turn squared it to Reiten for a simple finish and the go-ahead goal.
United did hit the post through Jackie Groenen’s speculative ball into the box, but they couldn’t keep Kerr quiet. Harder closed down Mary Earps, whose rushed clearance was headed from Reiten to Kerr. The Australian took it on her chest 25 yards out with her back to goal and in one fluid movement swung through it to hit the back of the net.
The fourth goal knocked the remaining stuffing out of United and Chelsea looked increasingly in control. Ji took a tumble under pressure from Ladd but the referee was unmoved and, as the minutes ticked by, the atmosphere in the stands began to rise again. There was even opportunity for Hayes to give Drew Spence, leaving Chelsea after 13 years, a send-off in stoppage time.
Chelsea are WSL champions once again.
Sam Kerr scored two spectacular goals / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages
GK: Ann-Katrin Berger – 5/10 – Hasn’t had the best few months and appeared similar nervy here for large parts of the match.
RB: Jess Carter – 6/10 – Given a tough afternoon for about an hour, but Chelsea’s fourth goal killed United’s spirits.
CB: Millie Bright – 5/10 – Won’t be pleased with two goals conceded.
CB: Magdalena Eriksson (c) – 5/10 – Looked shaky in the first half, perhaps a factor of taking an early knock. Settled down eventually.
LB: Jonna Andersson – 5/10 – Endured a tough first half. Off at half-time.
RM: Niamh Charles – 5/10 – Too easily played around when United scored their second. Lasted an hour before being replaced.
CM: Sophie Ingle – 5/10 – Sacrificed at half-time as Hayes looked for more attacking guile and creativity.
CM: Erin Cuthbert – 8/10 – Did well to drive home the first equaliser at a time when Chelsea were second best. Battled really hard.
LM: Guro Reiten – 7/10 – Didn’t track the run of Toone when United scored their second. But made up for that with Chelsea’s well-taken third.
ST: Pernille Harder – 7/10 – Too quiet early on but made the third goal and put pressure on the ball that contributed to the fourth.
ST: Sam Kerr – 9/10 – Well marshalled in the first half but her two outstanding goals in the second effectively won the title for Chelsea.
SUB: Bethany England (46′ for Andersson) – 5/10
SUB: Ji So-yun (46′ for Ingle) – 8/10 – Created Chelsea’s third goal by carving open the defence. Changed the game on her last WSL appearance.
SUB: Aniek Nouwen (59′ for Charles) – 6/10
SUB: Jessie Fleming (77′ for Harder) – 6/10
SUB: Drew Spence (90+3 for Kerr) – N/A
Man Utd led twice in the game / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages
GK: Mary Earps – 5/10 – Beaten by four really good goals. Arguably slightly at fault for the Chelsea fourth.
RB: Ona Batlle – 6/10 – Not as effective getting forward as her usual self, but defended well against Reiten for the most part.
CB: Hayley Ladd – 6/10 – Took an early booking but continued to battle.
CB: Maria Thorisdottir – 6/10 – Perfectly timed tackle on Kerr was a big first half moment. Her performance didn’t deserve four goals going in.
LB: Hannah Blundell – 6/10 – Big challenge against her former club and gave it her all.
CM: Jackie Groenen – 7/10 – Played her usual game covering ground all over the pitch and linking up with wide players in channels – that was a factor in engineering the space for Toone’s goal.
CM: Katie Zelem (c) – 6/10 – Excellent set piece delivery continued to be a massive weapon. Faded as Chelsea began to exert more control.
AM: Ella Toone – 7/10 – Watched the ball all the way onto her foot to retake the lead. Played well overall, asking questions of Chelsea.
RW: Martha Thomas – 6/10 – Has missed chances at key times this season but her early header was perfect to break the deadlock. Impact waned.
ST: Alessia Russo – 7/10 – Really tried to take the game to Chelsea’s back four and was having a lot of success, even after United went behind.
LW: Leah Galton – 7/10 – Her searching cross to the far post gave United their second goal. Gave Carter a hard time overall but later left the pitch in tears after a bad tackle from Bright.
SUB: Kirsty Hanson (65′ for Galton) – 5/10
SUB: Vilde Boe Risa (76′ for Thomas) – 5/10
SUB: Signe Bruun (82′ for Groenen) – 5/10
The Huracan Foundations’ ‘Keep girls in school in 2022’ aims to improve opportunities for girls and reduce gender inequalities.
The global pandemic exacerbated gender inequality issues in a number of countries, and that is why in 2022 four new project leads are focused on using football to make a real difference to girls’ lives in remote communities across Uganda and India. To find out more click here.
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