Chelsea went four points clear of Arsenal at the top of the Women’s Super League after a hard-fought 2-1 win against Tottenham left them needing two wins from their final two games to guarantee another title.
It was third time lucky for this particular fixture, having previously been postponed twice and played 111 days after it was originally scheduled. The game also came four days after the reverse fixture – won 3-1 by Chelsea – and is the shortest gap between a fixture being played in the history of the WSL.
Chelsea dominated the first half – Sam Kerr’s header their first attempt on target inside 20 seconds – but it took 19 minutes for the Blues to make the breakthrough.
Emma Hayes’s side made good use of the short corner, with Jonna Andersson floating in a cross from the top left corner. Beth England was in the middle and nodded past Tinja-Riikka Korpela.
Chelsea continued to look devastating going forward, particularly down the wings, as player after player saw chances fall their way. However, a mix of good goalkeeping and bodies-on-the-line defending saw them restricted to just the one goal.
- Chelsea made four changes from Sunday’s win against Tottenham, also in the WSL. Ann-Katrin Berger was suspended, while Aniek Nouwen, Niamh Charles and So-yun Ji also dropped out of the side. Zecira Musovic, Magdalena Eriksson, Pernille Harder and Joanna Andersson came into the XI.
- Tottenham made three changes. Asmita Ale, Maeva Clemaron and Rosella Ayane came into the starting squad, while Ashleigh Neville, Eveliina Summanen and Jess Naz made way.
Tottenham sprung a surprise when they equalised just before the break with their first shot of the game. Kyah Simon whipped in a free-kick and an unmarked Kerys Harrop nodded home – the first goal Chelsea had conceded at home in the WSL in seven games, stretching back to October.
But 18 seconds later and Kerr sent the Blues back ahead. Pernille Harder sent in a wonderful ball from the right and the Australia international was there to head in – the third header of the game – with a grateful Hayes puffing out her cheeks on the touchline.
Tottenham drastically improved after the break, restricting Chelsea’s ability to play down the wings and winning the ball higher up the pitch to put their opponents under pressure.
Their best chance of the half came just before the hour. Rosella Ayane cut into the area from the right flank and hit a curling effort goalwards. It had Chelsea No 2 Zecira Musovic scrambling to keep it out, but she did enough to send the ball onto the top of the net.
Signs of frustration soon began to creep in for Chelsea as Spurs tested their London rivals, but the Blues rediscovered their swagger as the clock ticked past the 80th minute
Erin Cuthbert trotted along the top of the 18-yard box, but her strike from range pinged off the bottom of the post. Then, her superb ball over the top saw Kerr fire into the net as the whistle went for offside. However, the replays showed that the striker was, in fact, onside.
However, the Blues ultimately did enough to see the game out and move four points clear of Arsenal, edging closer to another WSL title. Tottenham remain in fifth spot, although their bid for a top-three finish has been bought to an end, remaining 11 points from Manchester United in third with three games to play.
Could the Champions League decide the WSL title winner?
Sky Sports’ Karen Carney:
The Champions League might be a factor come the end of the season. Chelsea went out early, they could focus on the league. Arsenal were still in it and playing against real top opposition and had to focus on that. Their squad rotation had to change, they had injuries and that might be a factor.
I think the Birmingham game [for Chelsea on Sunday, live on Sky Sports] is hard… Birmingham are fighting for it [to stay in the WSL] and everyone thinks they’re down but internally, they don’t. Going there is going to be tough and you have to stay concentrated.
But with the squad Chelsea have, with the way they’re going and having to go through resilient moments this week, I think it’s Chelsea’s [title].
Should Chelsea have been awarded two penalties?
Chelsea had two penalty shouts in the game that were not given. The first came in the 30th minute when Millie Bright’s header hit Rachel Williams on the arm inside the area.
Sky Sports’ Karen Carney: “It’s clearly a handball from Williams, it stops it going towards the goal. It happens in the heat [of the moment], but my issue is – don’t put yourself in a position to raise your hand. But the ref didn’t see it, even though it was a good view.”
Liverpool Women manager Matt Beard: “The referee has a good view, he can see right through, but Zadorsky’s hair maybe gets in the way of maybe seeing the hand, I don’t know. But it looks like it’s going in and should be a penalty.”
Later, in the 51st minute, Harder was fouled inside the area by Maeva Clemaron, but again the referee did not give the penalty.
Carney: “Again, an obvious penalty. Harder is going off the back shoulder, she’s got there and it’s just the little bit of contact that pulls her back. Anywhere else on the pitch, that’s a foul so why isn’t it in the penalty area?”
Beard: “I agree, especially with the way Chelsea had been attacking the crosses. Clemaron has pulled her back and Harder’s gone down. For me, it’s a penalty.”
Hayes: The win is all that matters
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes told Sky Sports:
“I thought we were tired second half. We should have finished the game off in the first half, so to concede a goal like we did, I think we switched off for a minute. But to get it back like we did so quickly, it was great character from the team.
“But it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant, the win is all that matters. No one remembers the performances come the end of the season, it’s the goals that count.
“Whenever we concede a goal, the team always has a strong mindset – put the ball down and off they go again. A really great piece of play from Pernille to put Sam in [for the second goal].
“We should’ve had more goals. Whether it should have been from penalties, I don’t know, I haven’t seen them back. But for sure, we should have won by a bigger scoreline.
“There’s two games to go and we’ve got to get fresh because we’ve played some hard football these last few days.”
Player of the match – Sam Kerr
Sky Sports’ Sue Smith on co-commentary:
“Obviously for her goal, but her overall contribution has been excellent… her quality on and off the ball, her work rate. She’s just such a threat every time she goes forward.”
Carney added after the game: “She’s the difference for them. This season, you’ve lost Fran Kirby, Pernille Harder’s been injured, and she’s got all those goals and assists.
“But she has the pressing and the work rate that every centre-forward in the best teams in the WSL and Premier League do. They all press with intent and Kerr is brilliant at that, on the front foot and starts it for Chelsea. Then there’s the ability to sore and assist.
“The one criticism I have is that she should be scoring more. She has so many opportunities, and probably isn’t as clinical.
“But she is the difference. If Chelsea didn’t have her, they wouldn’t win [the title].”
Chelsea goalscorer Sam Kerr told Sky Sports…
“They’re a good team so it does feel like a big three points. Any win is an important win now, there are two games to go and we’ve just got to grind through and if we get all six points, we’re champions.
“In the first half, before the red last weekend, we actually struggled against them so we knew it would be tough. They’re a much-improved side with quality players so we had to dig deep. They’ve taken big points off big clubs this year so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“I think it was really disappointing as a team to concede just before the half, so for me, it was just built up anger and adrenaline [for her goal]. It’s just what strikers do I guess, we just stay in the moment. It was an amazing play by Pernille and a good team goal.
“I love playing at home. I live 10 minutes away from here so it’s easy to prepare, I’m not going to lie. Our fans are amazing, the pitch is amazing, it’s one of the best grounds in this league, we’re lucky… it’s always nice to score at home.”
Skinner: We have to manage the game better
Tottenham manager Rehanne Skinner to Sky Sports:
“I’m pleased that we did better over 90 minutes. I think we completed the performance a lot better, we had a lot more possession than what we were expected in some respects as well, which created challenges for them.
“And then we just tried to make it as difficult as possible. I think you expect to concede some chances in and around the final third, but I think we limited that for them and our defending was really hard-working, putting bodies on the line, and I’m proud of the players for the commitment to the game.
“I thought it was a fantastic delivery and a great header [for the Spurs goal]. Chelsea weren’t picking up [players] so it’s just a really well-directed header. It’s things we do on the training pitch, but we’ve not delivered as many of them in high pressure moments like we did today.
“But we’ve got to manage the game better. It’s two games in a row now where we’ve been in the driving seat, in a really positive place and then we’ve switched off.
“That’s one of the areas we’ve got to learn from and make sure we bring back in a better position for the remaining three games of the season. It’s part of our development for next year.”
Chelsea are in next in action on Sunday when they face Birmingham in their penultimate game of the season, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 6.30pm. They welcome Manchester United to Kingsmeadow on May 8 as they look to clinch another WSL title.