Sam Kerr’s double for Chelsea against Manchester United clinches WSL title | Women’s Super League

Two stunning volleys from Sam Kerr helped Chelsea to a third consecutive Women’s Super League title as the Blues twice came from behind to earn a thrilling 4-2 win over Manchester United.

With Arsenal one point behind the title holders, the destination of the WSL trophy swung between north and south-west London as United pushed Chelsea hard at a packed and sun-drenched Kingsmeadow.

The United forward Martha Thomas gave her team the lead that would send the away fans 25 miles to the north-east, where West Ham faced second-placed Arsenal, wild with hope. Chelsea hit back through Erin Cuthbert but the visitors reclaimed the lead before the break through Ella Toone. Kerr’s double, sandwiching a close-range effort from Guro Reiten, took her season tally to 20 and secured Chelsea a third consecutive title.

Emma Hayes had been characteristically dismissive when asked whether she was feeling any pressure going into today’s game. “Look at the cost of inflation, look at the rising costs for people paying the bills, this is far from pressure, this is a joy, I love my job,” the Chelsea manager said.

The problem was that, in Manchester United, Chelsea were playing a team with a chance of reaching the Champions League for the first time. After a shaky, injury-hit start to the season, Manchester City had clawed their way back into third, with a two-point lead over United in fourth. Marc Skinner’s team needed a win against the holders and for Reading to take points from Manchester City.

The United manager had said: “Not only do we have nothing to lose and everything to gain, it is a wonderful opportunity for us to go and show how energetic we can be at the end of the season,” and his side began exactly as the manager hoped, with an intensity fitting of a team ready to push on and upset things at the top of the table next season.

Within three minutes, a well-timed challenge from Jess Carter on Leah Galton spared the home team’s blushes at a sold-out and lively Kingsmeadow. Shortly afterwards, a corner from Katie Zelem caused chaos in the Chelsea box before the Blues scrambled the ball clear.

Ella Toone celebrates scoring for Manchester United Women against Chelsea Women. Photograph: Pedro Soares/SPP/Shutterstock

In the 13th minute the visiting team took a shock but wholly deserved lead when a free-kick from Zelem was turned in by the head of Thomas to put Arsenal above the Blues.

If there is one thing Chelsea have shown this season it is grit, and United’s lead was short-lived. A long throw was lashed low past Mary Earps into the corner by Cuthbert.

Despite Chelsea equalising, United were dominant in the middle and it was not long before they regained their lead with Toone firing in from Galton’s cross from the left.

If there was further evidence needed of Hayes’s ability to turn a game, it came in the second half. The defensive duo Jonna Andersson and Sophie Ingle were swapped for Ji So-yun and Beth England and Chelsea instantly asserted their authority in midfield. It took just 50 seconds into the second half for Chelsea to draw level and the source was familiar, Kerr blasting a volley into the top corner with all the fury she could muster.

Five minutes later and they were back on top of the table – a draw would not have been enough, with Arsenal by now beating West Ham. Ji slipped the ball wide to Pernille Harder on the left and the Denmark forward sent a low cross in for Reiten to side-foot in.

Moving the Goalposts graphic
Artwork: Guardian Design

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With the stadium rocking and the momentum having swung Chelsea’s way, an audacious goal from Kerr would extend their lead and strengthen their grip on the title. Earp’s pass out was intercepted by Reiten, who headed it forward to Kerr and the Australia striker, 25 yards out and with her back to goal, cushioned the ball on her chest before turning and sending a looping volley into the net.

No season can top the 2014 finale, but this went close. Then, Chelsea crumbled, relinquishing a two-point advantage over Birmingham and three-point lead over Liverpool, who came from third to be champions on the final day.

Here, Chelsea dug themselves out of trouble as they have so often during this title charge. Once they had usurped Arsenal at the top of the table there was no way they were stepping down.

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