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To the final day we go
Even if we (probably) all know what is going to happen
There were points where it seemed like everything might get wrapped up this weekend but we will be going down to the last day of the season to decide the title winners, Champions League spots and relegation. At least technically. FiveThirtyEight have Chelsea at 95% certainty to win the league with Reading 95% to go down. Arsenal now have a >99% chance of securing Champions League football as Manchester City would need to win by a 11 goal swing as well as hoping Arsenal lose to Aston Villa.
It feels curiously unsatisfying even as media outlets have tried to spin this weekend’s events as being another twist in the title race. Of course, Chelsea could lose to Reading on the final day - they did lose away last season - but Emma Hayes’ side have scored 22 goals since they last conceded one six matches ago against Liverpool. So instead we are left waiting for what feels inevitable - Hayes’ side lifting a fourth consecutive trophy whilst sending Reading down.
Chelsea 2 - Arsenal 0
If Chelsea were going to slip up in the title race, it was going to be here. Even against an Arsenal decimated by injuries, it still felt like there was an opportunity for something to go wrong. Instead they put in probably one of their best 45 minute performances of the season. Using an out of possession front three in Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder and Lauren James to press Arsenal’s back three, Chelsea looked much more energetic than we have seen in recent months. With Lia Wälti, Jonas Eidevall used Frida Maanum and Victoria Pelova as a double pivot but both struggled against the indefatigable Erin Cuthbert and Sophie Ingle.
Chelsea were 2-0 up at half-time thanks to goals from Guro Reiten and (who else) Magdalena Eriksson with both conceded from cross-field balls. It is notable that of goalkeepers who have played 900+ minutes in the WSL this season, only Grace Moloney and Becky Spencer have made fewer catches and punches than Manuela Zinsberger. Arsenal had had their chances on the break with Ann-Katrin Berger making a number of spectacular saves but Chelsea deserved their lead.
Eidevall switched it up at half-time with Steph Catley coming on to play left wing-back and Katie McCabe moved across to replace Kathrine Kühl. The Catley-Foord combination caused Chelsea a lot of problems and it looked like Arsenal might get back into it, but when McCabe missed the penalty won from an Ingle handball it felt all over.
Given Arsenal’s injuries it was always going to be a big ask to stop Chelsea at this point in the season. The win meant that Chelsea have won every home game this season, a reminder again of what a fortress Kingsmeadow is for them.
Manchester United 2 - Manchester City 1
Chelsea’s win meant that anything less than a win for United in the Manchester derby would hand Chelsea the league title with a game to go. United left it late but kept the title race limping on thanks to a 91st minute winner from Lucia Garcia. They had gone 1-0 up after only two minutes thanks to a spectacular Hayley Ladd goal and when Ellie Roebuck was sent off for a last-man tackle on Nikita Parris after 42 minutes, it looked sewn up for them. But Mary Earps conceded a variation of one of the goals she likes to concede (particularly in Manchester derbies) when Filippa Angeldahl’s floated over her head and into the back of the net.
There was a lot on the line for both sides. Arsenal’s loss meant that Manchester City could have put real pressure on them for the final Champions League spot whilst obviously United did not want to lose the title. Both had good opportunities throughout this game without ever looking particularly convincing, with perhaps the biggest concern for United being how much they struggled to contain a 10 player City.
It was another late goal for United who have scored 15 goals from the 76th minute onwards in the WSL this season - more than any other team. The flip side is they have also scored the most goals in the first 15 minutes. It is hard to know how sustainable this side is with their reliance on late goals and a pretty settled starting XI. If they do miss out on the title this year, having also missed out on the FA Cup, it will be interesting to see how Marc Skinner refreshes this side. Their underlying numbers tell a story of a defensively stable team who have massively overperformed in attack. With striker Alessia Russo looking likely to move on, creating more going forward should be a summer priority.
Tottenham 4 - Reading 1
Tottenham’s famous double-header did not get off to the most auspicious start with the men’s team fumbling a 1-0 lead to lose 3-1 to Brentford. Fortunately for the women, given how important this match was, it became pretty comfortable for them with Bethany England (obviously) opening the scoring. Goals from Celin Bizet, England again and Kit Graham wrapped this one up, although Justine Vanhaevermet got a consolation for Reading. The strangest bit about this match was how high Tottenham’s technical level was. It became a reminder of what failing it has been that they ended up only saving themselves from relegation on the penultimate day. The building blocks of a much better team are there, but they will have to seriously look at the squad and management team over the summer to come good on it.
Leicester City 1 - West Ham 2
Reading have unlikely heroes West Ham to thank for keeping them in the division for now. A Leicester City win would have sent them down but Paul Konchesky’s side managed to pick up their first league win since December thanks to an own goal from Sophie Howard and a Dagny Brynjarsdottir penalty. It is testament to how bad West Ham have been that this felt like a surprise result. Fortunately for Leicester, the chances of Reading getting a result against Chelsea feel pretty unlikely.
In the other two (dead rubber) matches, Rachel Daly increased her grip on the Golden Boot scoring again along with a double from Kirsty Hanson as Aston Villa drew 3-3 with Liverpool in a perfect result for a pointless match. Daly looks almost certain to win the trophy in her first season at Aston Villa but it will be interesting to see if she can maintain this level next year. She has scored 21 goals from an xG of 12.3, with 11 goals scored in her last seven matches. It is a very very hot streak but it will be interesting to see if that gets her the nod ahead of Alessia Russo to start at the World Cup.
Meanwhile there was a 91st minute winner from Hanna Bennison for Everton to beat Brighton 2-1. Katja Snoejis had put them ahead before Katie Robinson equalised on the stroke of half-time. It was also the first time in four games that Everton had not conceded more than one goal. Maybe Manchester City can be hopeful of scoring 11 on the final day…