Chelsea secured a third-consecutive WSL title in dramatic fashion at Kingsmeadow, coming from 2-1 down to Manchester United at half-time to win 4-2 and ensure a fitting send-off for the departing trio of Ji-So Yun, Drew Spence and Jonna Andersson.
Emma Hayes stressed the lack of nerves personally during Friday’s press conference, noting the more real-world, off-pitch matters.
It was hard not to detect some jitters in an unnerving first half that saw Chelsea concede twice to an inspired Manchester United.
Via OptaJoe, the two goals in the opening 26 minutes against United matched the two they had conceded at home for the rest of this season in the WSL. At half-time, lacking inspiration and the fear of a sun-bathed Kingsmeadow not getting the parade they had expected, Hayes effectively went for it.
Taking off Jonas Andersson and Sophie Ingle for the unabashed attacking pair of the departing Ji-So Yun and Bethany England.
This had followed a half where United had taken the lead twice.
Berger was also undone for the second United goal, this time Ella Toone’s effort wickedly deflecting off Anderson with the Chelsea keeper already moving in one direction.
Erin Cuthbert who had brought Chelsea level three minutes after Thomas‘ opener with a ruthless strike into the bottom corner.
At that point, there was an expectation the Champions would assert control, but this did not happen, sparking the daring change Hayes made.
Soon the Blue waves of attacks that had sunk United back in September were back, and soon the movement of Guro Reiten from the left was helping to create overloads that United couldn’t nullify.
The goal that gave Chelsea the lead with 51 minutes gone best optimised this shift in momentum.
The sub Ji threaded a perfectly weighted ball through to Pernille Harder down the left before playing in Reiten for an easy tap-in.
As the melee of blue shirts went to celebrate, Ji sprinted over to the touchline to embrace Hayes.
It is hard to write this report without marvelling at Sam Kerr, two strikes from the heavens that left Mary Earps scrambling across her goal.
The first sparked echoes of Zinedine Zidane’s iconic Champions League final strike against Bayer Leverkusen.
The second sparked bedlam inside Kingsmeadow, instinctively turning from a Reiten knockdown and hooking the ball towards the goal that caught Earps off her line.
Since her 2020 signing, the Australian has scored more goals than any other player in the division, whilst she’s become the first player to net more than twenty times in consecutive Super League campaigns.
The mentality of Hayes‘ squad was reflected in her words before Sunday, but her players best epitomised that with their second-half response to a tense situation.
They remain Chelsea’s standout team heading into the Todd Bohely era, Hayes and her players have set a high benchmark for the rest, but it’s something every Chelsea team should be aspiring to.