Chelsea

Emma Hayes insists Chelsea Women can handle WSL title pressure

The 2021/22 Women’s Super League (WSL) title run-in looks set to go right down to the wire, with a two-way duel between Chelsea and Arsenal. With just four games apiece remaining in the campaign, Emma Hayes’ Chelsea find themselves a point clear at the top of the table.

The Blues have been at their clinical best in recent weeks. They swept past second-bottom Leicester City with a 9-0 hammering and followed that up with another comprehensive 5-0 victory against mid-table Reading to keep title rivals Arsenal at arm’s length. Boss Emma Hayes believes her squad are thriving under the pressure of claiming a third straight WSL championship. In fact, Hayes said her squad would “rather be in the position where something’s within [their] control” as opposed to Arsenal’s current position, who could yet win all four of their remaining WSL fixtures, and still miss out on the title.

Should The Blues’ succeed in holding off Arsenal’s stiff pressure to win the WSL this year it would be an impressive feat, and display of unrelenting consistency. However, it would be difficult to compare it with some of the biggest achievements in English football. Little compares to Leicester’s miraculous title victory in the men’s 2015/16 Premier League, when the Foxes outfought sides with squads and budgets far bigger than theirs. It’s been a different kind of achievement for Hayes and Chelsea, given their status as the bookmakers’ favourites from day one this term.

Ironically, it was Reading who inflicted one of Chelsea’s two WSL defeats earlier in the season, when Deanne Rose plundered a shock winner back in December. Hayes was pleased with the way her side handled both the weight of expectation, and the fact that Reading were seemingly intent on sitting in and frustrating their West London opponents. Hayes acknowledged that her team “had to grind them down” but praised their ability to “control the play a little bit better” in the last half of the season. All of which has aided their “decision making” in the final third.

Hayes reserved individual praise for Aussie hot-shot Sam Kerr

Sam Kerr

Hayes used Australian star Sam Kerr as a prime example of her team’s selflessness in recent weeks. Kerr, who was on a hat-trick against Reading, agreed to Beth England taking the stoppage time penalty kick which she duly converted to add the final gloss to the scoreline. Hayes said Kerr’s decision not to push for a hat-trick opportunity typified “what [their] environment is”.

It was a goal that was fully deserved for England too, given her tireless running and pressing from the front in the second half against the Royals. Kerr and England are certainly a formidable double act at WSL level, with Kerr’s nous in front of goal marrying neatly with England’s work rate and drive to keep defences honest.

How is the rest of the 2021/22 WSL campaign likely to play out?

Chelsea’s title hopes undoubtedly rest on a WSL double-header with London rivals Tottenham at the back end of April. They play each other twice in the space of five days, which will be a major test of Chelsea’s credentials. Tottenham are no pushovers but, having faded out of the Champions League qualification picture, they have little more than pride to play for.

Arsenal’s next game sees them travel to lowly Everton, who have struggled throughout this season, winning just five of their 19 league games. Mid-table Aston Villa and West Ham conclude the Gunners’ WSL campaign who, like Tottenham, will have only pride to play for.

If it is to go down to the wire and a final day shoot-out, Chelsea’s home game with Manchester United is certainly a trickier proposition on paper than Arsenal’s short trip to West Ham. United have been in solid form themselves of late to inch clear of Manchester City into third place. If third spot and a Champions League qualification spot is not finalised before the last day, United could travel to the Kingsmeadow Stadium needing a result, which could intensify the drama further still.

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