Football Features

“Getting it done when it matters” – Sam Kerr extends Golden Boot run to secure Chelsea’s record-breaking WSL title

By Harry Edwards

Published: 18:32, 9 May 2022

Well there it is, the FA Women’s Super League is over for another season and what a season it was.

Chelsea and Arsenal went into the final day separated by just one point in the WSL title race, and fans were dreaming of a helicopter hovering somewhere between Norbiton (where Chelsea hosted Manchester United at their Kingsmeadow stadium) and Dagenham (where Arsenal faced West Ham United). The magic was ruined by pictures of a WSL trophy at each ground, but that didn’t spoil the day for the neutrals following the action.

But the title wasn’t the only thing on the line. Manchester City and Man Utd were both fighting for the third Champions League qualification spot, and Sam Kerr and Vivianne Miedema had their eyes on the Golden Boot.

So let’s take a look back at the big talking points of the exciting final day and the campaign as a whole.

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1. Sam Kerr: the Queen of Kingsmeadow

When Sam Kerr scored just one goal in her opening four WSL appearances for Chelsea after joining from Chicago Red Stars, some opposition fans were quick to label her a flop. The Australian had been getting into good positions but just couldn’t put away the chances may expected her to convert.

But Kerr has had the last laugh, and then some. She scored 21 goals in the WSL last season to help Chelsea win the league ahead of Man City, also scooping the Golden Boot. And she repeated that feat this season, but in even more crucial circumstances.

Kerr went into the final game of the season on 18 goals, four clear of second-placed Vivianne Miedema in the race for the Golden Boot, and knowing she needed to help her team get over the line. Chelsea struggled in the first half of their game against Man Utd, trailing 2-1, but Kerr stepped up when the Blues needed her.

First, she equalised with a wonderful volley on her weaker left foot after Erin Cuthbert’s shot had been blocked less than a minute after half time. With Chelsea needing to match Arsenal’s result to win the league, and the Gunners’ drawing at that time, the title was back in the Blues’ ands.

But Kerr wasn’t done there, scoring arguably the goal of the season to make it 4-2 to Chelsea after Guro Reiten had put them ahead, controlling a header from the Norwegian with her chest and volleying the ball past Mary Earps from range.

“The best goals to me are the ones that mean the most,” Kerr said of her goals.

“The Aston Villa one to me was the most important. I’m not known for my ‘worldie’ goals but I’m all for getting it done when it matters.

“The most important thing is making sure the team are top of the table at the end of the season.”

With that goal, Kerr became the first ever player to score 20+ goals in two consecutive WSL seasons, and also sealed her seventh Golden Boot in six years. Since 2017, the Australian has won the 2017 NWSL Golden Boot, 2017/18 A-League Women, 2018 NWSL, 2018/19 A-League Women, 2019 NWSL, 2020/21 WSL and 2021/22 Golden Boots. Her mantlepiece must be suffering under the weight of all those trophies.

2. Emma Hayes’ record-breakers

Kerr wasn’t the only one breaking records at Kingsmeadow on Sunday. Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Man Utd meant they remained one point clear of Arsenal to secure a third consecutive league title.

The first of the back-to-back-to-back league titles came in the 2019/20 which was curtailed, and the win awarded to Chelsea on points per game as they had been second with a game in hand over Man City when the season ended. They once again pipped Man City to the title last season, by two points, but this third will feel extra special.

Chelsea haven’t had it all their way this season, only taking over at the top in recent weeks – and Emma Hayes called it “by far and away the best one” speaking to Sky Sports after the game. The Blues are the first team to win three consecutive WSL titles and they have now won five overall (not including the 2017 Spring Series which was used as a stopgap when the WSL switched from a summer league to a winner one).

Pernille Harder also extended her own pretty impressive record of winning titles. The two-time UEFA Women’s Player of the Year joined Chelsea in the summer of 2020 and has been instrumental in their two WSL title wins, carrying the Blues in particular at points this season.

But the Dane has now won a league title in each of her past seven seasons, a run which started in 2016 with Linköping in Sweden. She then won four consecutive Frauen Bundesliga titles with Wolfsburg before her double at Chelsea.

3. Jonas Eidevall has Arsenal revitalised

A lot of the focus in the immediate post-season will be about Chelsea and their title win, but had the league gone to Arsenal, an equally-deserving team would have been rewarded for a stellar camapign.

The Gunners felt some way off the top two last season, finishing seven points behind second placed Man City in 2020/21 and nine off Chelsea, and they were stagnating under Joe Montemurro. But Jonas Eidevall’s arrival in the summer has brought a new lease of life to Arsenal and the Swede is building a team capable of challenging for trophies.

Arsenal finished the WSL campaign with the best attack and the best defence, scoring 65 goals and conceding 10. Had they drawn and Chelsea lost on the final day, they’ve have won the title on goal difference. Manuela Zinsberger also finished the season with 13 clean sheets, claiming the Golden Glove.

Overall, the Gunners lost just one game and that proved costly, a shock 2-0 defeat to Birmingham City that had allowed Chelsea back into the title race.

Eidevall has also been great for the league in his growing rivalry with Emma Hayes. The Swede has made digs at Chelsea, and Hayes has made them back. We’ve had mention of black cats and squirrels across the campaign, and we can’t wait to see what comes next season. Chelsea’s title celebrations also saw the players mimicking Eidevall’s passionate celebrations when Arsenal beat the Blues one the opening day of the campaign.

“Of course I do I love that part [the rivalry between the managers], there’s no point denying that,” Hayes told TalkSport of the growing rivalry.

“I think any rivalry is healthy, I welcome it, I like the competition, it improves me as a coach and I think Jonas has been an amazing addition to the league this year.

“But I’m absolutely delighted he’s sitting at home empty-handed today!”

4. Beth Mead’s redemption season

One of the stars for Arsenal this season has been Beth Mead, but her impact may have gone under the radar of some, as she didn’t make the top three for the FWA’s Women’s Footballer of the Year award. But she deserves recognition.

The 27-year-old bounced back from a disappointing campaign last season that had caused her to fall out of the England squad and miss selection for Team GB at the Olympics to be instrumental in Eidevall’s Arsenal. Mead ended the season on eight goals and 11 assists in the WSL, with only Kerr (24) and Miedema (22) directly involved in more goals than the Englishwoman.

And she hit a pretty big milestone too. In setting up Jordan Nobbs for Arsenal’s third in their 3-0 win over Everton last month, Mead moved clear of Karen Carney as the WSL’s all-time top assister. Since then, she has added another two, taking her tally to 38 – five clear of the next active player, Arsenal teammate Miedema.

5. The WSL loses an ever-present

It wasn’t all celebration in the WSL this season though, and in their penultimate match of the campaign, Birmingham were relegated from the top flight. One of the big names of women’s football, Birmingham were a founding member of the WSL and one of three teams that went into the 2021/22 campaign as ever-present, alongside Arsenal and Chelsea.

Only Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City have won more WSL points than Birmingham’s 240, and their 67 wins is also the fourth-highest in the division’s history. But Birmingham have been slowly falling down the table after challenging for the title in the early campaigns, and they had only been saved last season by Bristol City being worse.

This year, they ended the campaign with just three wins (one was over Arsenal though) and finished two points behind Leicester City – ending on a high by beating Aston Villa in a West Midlands Derby.

6. Man City pip Man Utd to Champions League

After a few weeks of the season, Man City were struggling and some opposition fans were already planning relegation parties and getting their jabs in on a low finish. But there was more to Man City’s story than just poor form.

The Citizens were seriously struggling with injuries, not least to first-choice goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck and captain Steph Houghton. But once Roebuck returned and Man City’s makeshift backline started to get accustomed to each other – Alex Greenwood in particular was brilliant – Gareth Taylor’s side excelled.

Since a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea in November, Man City won 13 of their 15 WSL games, only dropping points in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal and another defeat to Chelsea. This saw them capitalise of Man Utd’s drop in form to secure the third and final Champions League spot, with the Red Devils once again struggling in the second half of the season.

Man City also won the Continental Cup in March, coming from behind to beat Chelsea 3-1 in the final and there will be a repeat of next in next week’s FA Cup final.

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7. Liverpool back in the big time

Birmingham’s relegation was a sad moment for the WSL, but they have to be replaced and there’s another big name returning in Liverpool.

The Reds are two-time WSL champions but their fall from grace to be relegated in 2019/20 was a by-product of the club ignoring their women’s team, failing to back them in even the most simple of things. But, after a reshuffle of priorities and two years in the Championship, Liverpool are back.

Matt Beard’s side cruised to the Championship title, finishing 11 points clear of second-placed London City Lionesses to secure the only promotion spot to the WSL.

Fans will automatically be optimistic of Liverpool staying in the league, especially with Leicester underwhelming in their debut WSL campaign. There’s also uncertainty surrounding West Ham now as, just hours after the campaign ended, manager Oli Harder announced his departure – to be replaced by Paul Konchesky. Captain Gilly Flaherty will also leave this summer.

And then there’s the curious case of Everton who were backed by some to be dark horses this season after their summer spending spree. But they went through three managers, sacking Willie Kirk and then his replacement Jean-Luc Vasseur, eventually finishing 10th.


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