They had to be patient, but Chelsea moved another step closer to retaining their Super League title with a 2-0 win over dogged Spurs. Sam Kerr scored either side of half time to seal a workaday victory for Emma Hayes’ side, and keep matters in their own hands going into the final weekend of the WSL. Ok, let’s tidy up the last match of Week 21…
Tottenham Hotspur 0-2 Chelsea
“Whenever you make changes, it disrupts some rhythm. You have to rely on those players to come into the team and be able to fit seamlessly even though they haven’t played a lot of football and I think that’s the hardest thing to do. That’s why I made five changes because on one level you disrupt a rhythm, but you have to understand that [the UWCL Semi Final] took a lot out of us emotionally on Sunday. It’s a job done and another real credit to the whole squad for getting another win for us.”Emma Hayes, Manager, Chelsea, via chelseafc.com
With Chelsea juggling WSL and Champions League matches in recent weeks, Emma Hayes made five changes to the side that drew at Manchester City. Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder were rested with Guro Reiten and Beth England coming into the attack. Niamh Charles replaced Jess Carter at right back and Drew Spence swapped in for Melanie Leupolz. Magda Eriksson returned to her central defensive role, shifting Sophie Ingle into midfield, with Ji So yun the player benched.
Spurs Head Coach Rehanne Skinner made a whopping six changes from the team beaten at Manchester United. Midfielder Chloe Peploe got her first start of the campaign replacing Josie Green. Esther Morgan, Siri Worm and Abbie McManus came into the backline for Ashleigh Neville, Kerys Harrop and Alanna Kennedy respectively. Angela Addison returned to the Tottenham front four in place of Kit Graham.
Chelsea began the match looking like a team that wanted to get matters put to bed quickly. Tottenham’s defence – most notably goalkeeper Becky Spencer – had other ideas.
The visitors had several good opportunities in the opening minutes. Erin Cuthbert’s free kick from the right was headed back across goal by Kerr, and Ingle had two bites before Spencer gathered.
Cuthbert arrived to meet Kerr’s cross from the left but her shot was blocked. The ball popped up for Drew Spence whose header was firm and accurate, but couldn’t beat Spencer who pawed it away acrobatically
Spurs presented their opponents with another chance to take the lead when a loose pass out from the back was picked off by Spence. The midfielder played Kerr into the penalty box and, although the Australian’s cross nicked a defender, the ball broke to Ingle, who was brilliantly denied at point blank range by the Spurs stopper.
At 0-0 there must have been a bit of nervousness in the Chelsea camp that the home side could throw a spanner in the works with a goal of their own. And Spurs nearly got it. Left back Siri Worm’s long diagonal was expertly brought down by Lucy Quinn – bypassing Jonna Andersson in the same move – but Ann-Katrin Berger got her angles right, saving Quinn’s fierce drive with her legs.
Chelsea’s Millie Bright is another player partial to a pinpoint diagonal ball. It would lead to the Blues’ opening goal, three minutes before the break. The centre back hit a right-to-left over the Spurs backline which Reiten centred first time on the volley, the ball just eluding Beth England, but not Kerr who swept home at the back post.
Andersson nearly got the visitor’s second, half-volleying against the cross bar from England’s cut back.
But it was Kerr who would get Emma Hayes’ side the crucial breathing space they wanted on 52 minutes, after England and Reiten engineered a cross from the left. Spencer saved the striker’s initial header but Kerr reacted quickest to the loose ball, volleying in emphatically from a couple of yards out.
Spurs kept their heads up and tried to look for a way back. Rianna Dean’s half-volley from outside the ‘D’ was the closest they came to troubling the Chelsea goal in the second half, but it whisked past the left-hand upright.
You’re only as good as your last game. Ultimately, we needed to turn up and we made it really hard for an in-form Chelsea. I’m pleased overall that we’ve improved in terms of our performance against them compared to last time. We’ve created some chances; we’ve got to be able to take them better. We were resilient in defence and we’ve made life difficult for them.Rehanne Skinner, Manager, Tottenham Hotspur, via Twitter
Tottenham Hotspur came into this fixture on the back of a nine-match winless run, and never at any point did it look like they were going to be able to get three points here against the reigning champions.
Skinner’s side finish their campaign on Sunday afternoon against another beleaguered team: Birmingham City who have picked up just six points from their last 12 games.
At the time of writing there’s nothing at stake for either side – although there is an FA investigation ongoing into Birmingham fielding an ineligible player. However, the match-up is interesting because Tottenham were awarded three points by the Football Association earlier in the season when the West Midlands club couldn’t fulfil the corresponding fixture. The winner has a chance to finish eighth and, while that’s not much to shout about from the roof tops, both managers would be delighted to end their campaign on a high.
Sam Kerr has moved on to twenty goals for the season, which puts her two ahead of Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema going into the concluding round of matches.
Kerr had alarm bells ringing for many pundits right from the season opener at the Community Shield, fluffing chances that she would have expected to take. That stumbling start followed her into the league. She was unusually wasteful – even though she still recorded three strikes in the Blues’ first four games. But her work rate never waned, neither did her ability to generate chances for herself and others – building a particularly fruitful partnership with Fran Kirby.
Once the Matildas’ star had dug her finishing boots out from the cupboard under the stairs, so the goals started racking up.
With a superior goal difference (+3) over Manchester City, Chelsea could theoretically win the title with a draw against Reading on Sunday. However, that result comes with risk. City are at West Ham and have scored four (or more) goals on seven occasions this season – including a 4-0 thumping of the Hammers back in January.
Emma Hayes’ focus, then, is going to be on winning against the Royals – something the Blues did earlier in the season when they knocked in five without reply at the Madejski. However, Reading have proved to be stubborn opposition at times this season, holding City and Arsenal, and beating Manchester United on the road.
So, it’s not a done deal. But with the stakes so high and their squad pretty much injury free, the smart money will surely be on Chelsea doing enough.
After that, well there’s the ‘small’ matter of preparing for a Champions League Final…