B.Before kick-off, Emma Hayes told her players that she didn’t want to see a thriller yet, for once even a team that was used to being in control, as Chelsea couldn’t quite fulfill their manager’s request.
They may have ended the evening with a two-point lead intact over Manchester City and another women’s Super League title close by, but the defending champions got quite a shock along the way.
When City English winger Lauren Hemp lit up a night that proved beyond doubt women’s game has wings, and home manager Gareth Taylor emphasized his tactical intelligence, the neutrals were surely bewitched.
During part of the second half, Hemp and his company left Chelsea looking as confused as a housekeeper faced with a flooded washing machine and unable to find the stopcock.
However, if Ann-Katrin Berger needed a brilliant save to prevent Hemp from scoring a late winner that would have turned the title race upside down, Hayes had Sam Kerr in her armory and the Australian’s opening goal kept Taylor tactical had to proceed gambling.
Though City started off strong and the high octane intensity was almost overwhelming at times, Kerr maintained her demeanor and impeccable sense of position. Both defenses had some awkward moments in the absence of their respective captains and defensive stalwarts, Steph Houghton and Magdalena Eriksson, and the former may flinch when Kerr led that prelude.
Similarly, Eriksson may not have enjoyed the sight of Millie Hell’s swooning in the face of Hemp’s excellent cross before Chloe Kelly equalized.
Though Pernille Harder’s penalty restored the visitors’ lead, City ended the first half as it had started and Berger did very well to get Lucy Bronze’s purposeful volley to safety.
Taylor’s players were so ruthless at the start of the second half that Chelsea barely touched the ball. Unusually, Fran Kirby, the WSL player for most of the people of the season, was unable to join the points of attack for Hayes’ side with her usual ease.
Problem was, Chelsea struggled to slow the pace with City on an urgent goal chase and excellent referee Rebecca Welch keeping the action flowing. The fragility of their leadership was underscored by the struggle to overcome hemp, with the winger’s double marking creating gaps elsewhere.
Unable to take advantage of her team, Taylor made a potentially seasonal call and replaced the city’s top scorer, Ellen White, with Rose Lavelle. Given that Lavelle was a key component of the team that US won at the 2019 World Cup, it speaks to the strength of the WSL that started on the bench, but their form has been inconsistent lately and eyebrows have been raised .
But when Lavelle took on an unusually deep role and she and her US teammate Sam Mewis dominated midfield, it looked like an inspired move. With Chelsea unable to stem the tide, Hemp rightly equalized before Berger did miracles to subsequently get her header to safety and almost certainly ensure that the WSL trophy would return to London.
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When the music died, Taylor had reason to ironically ponder the lyrics of a particular Abba hit that served as the soundtrack for nearly half a century of title-makers: “I’ve played all of my cards. And you did that too. Nothing left to say. No more ace to play with. The winner gets it all. The loser stands small. “
No matter; He and City should be proud that their contribution to this outstanding title race can only result in the WSL gaining stature.