To cap a remarkable domestic season, Sam Kerr won the golden boot and Ann-Katrin Berger the golden glove for their scoring and keeping prowess respectively.
The Women’s FA Cup and Champions League are still within this remarkable team’s grasp, and the prospect of an incredible quintuple remains possible. The Community Shield, League Cup and league trophy now wait in the cabinet, and more silverware may yet join them.
The season ended with a flourish at Kingsmeadow, where a small knot of diehard Blues fans stood outside (still denied entry for Covid rules). They waved home-made banners proclaiming the triumph, and they were rewarded for their patience when the team gathered on a security gantry overlooking the entrance to the stadium to thank them, and display their trophy and medals.
Chelsea took an early lead – one minute and 12 seconds to be exact – when a firm, low Jess Carter corner arrived at Melanie Leupolz’s feet, allowing her to volley straight in. The ball had barely entered Chelsea’s half of the pitch as the team scored the fastest goal in the WSL this season.
It increased to 2-0 two minutes before the break. Kerr fed Fran Kirby, as she so often does, and Kirby struck a magnificent shot into the top corner, past Grace Moloney’s dive.
After half-time, in the 57th minute, Kerr held up play in the area and again slid the ball to Kirby, who once again grazed Moloney’s despairing fingertips and scored.
With wholesale substitutions being made by Emma Hayes, to preserve her first team ahead of the European final in Sweden against Barcelona, it was a refreshed Blues team which regrouped and finished the job.
Some things never change, however. Kirby fed Kerr, with the ball falling awkwardly over the Australian’s shoulder. But with masterful control, she volleyed past Moloney, who could only get half a hand on the shot with 71 minutes gone.
At 4-0 that looked like it, but when Kerr’s next shot was parried in the 75th minute, sub Erin Cuthbert pounced, prodding it over the line for a 5-0 final score.
Asked afterwards why she had kept her ‘Special K’ pairing of strikers on the pitch when she could have been expected to rest them in the second half with the Champions League final looming, Hayes explained that she wanted to maximise Kerr’s chance of winning the golden boot (and staying ahead of Arsenal arch-rival Vivianne Miedema). It worked, and Kerr could celebrate a personal achievement on top of team glory.
The presentation took place on the pitch shortly afterwards, with Covid restrictons dictating that the players had to help themselves to medals from a tray before coming together on the podium for the traditional celebration of whooping and cheering as blue streamers flew through the air.
Touchingly, space was made for Maren Mjelde, who qualified for a medal and briefly discarded her single crutch to walk gingerly to pose in the champions’ team photograph.
Fara Williams, the Reading captain who was making her final appearance after a long and glittering football career, had been presented with a bouquet of flowers by Hayes before the game. But all her wisdom wasn’t enough to stop the juggernaut that Chelsea have become.
“Imagine. For nine years they’ve had to listen to the same voice!” Hayes quipped afterwards, as she gave credit to the squad for listening to season after season of her dressing room homilies.
“People think having strength in depth is an advantage. Well you try it!” she added defiantly, pointing out the problem of maintaining the morale and egos of a supremely talented squad, while managing the inevitable disappointment suffered week in week out by those not picked in the starting line-up.
While Kerr and Kirby will again get the headlines after this mighty performance, this was another success built on a clean sheet, and constructed around the central defensive pairing of captain Magda Eriksson and Millie Bright, with Sophie Ingle just ahead of them and Berger (who had barely anything to do during the game against Reading) between the sticks.
Despite having little to do, the “bedrock” – as Hayes puts it – were all-commanding, moving the ball skillfully from side to side to stretch the opposition and maximise the chances of attacks down the flanks, or straight through the middle.
“Mummy, bring a medal home for me today,” was Hayes’ son Harry’s instruction before she set out to the match. And Hayes obliged.
Next stop, Gothenburg and a date with destiny. It will undoubtedly be a tough fight, but the Blues – on top form – are capable of beating anyone.
Barcelona were crowned Spanish champions as Chelsea won the English title, with an intimidating record of 26 straight wins, scoring 108 goals to their opponents’ miserly five.
“They’re deserving of being in the final… but so are we,” was Hayes’ comment.