WSL: Chelsea Beat Reading To Seal Fourth Successive Title
Chelsea won the Women’s Super League for a fourth successive season as they cruised to a final-day victory against Reading and consigned the home side to relegation.
Emma Hayes’ side travelled to Select Car Leasing Stadium knowing victory would confirm them as champions and complete a league and cup Double.
Their only challengers were Manchester United, who won 1-0 at Liverpool but finished two points behind in the table.
It was a comfortable victory for the Blues and it was fitting that Sam Kerr and Guro Reiten delivered the goals after their performances this season played such a key role in Chelsea’s success.
The two combined for the early opener as Reiten’s cross was headed in by Kerr, before the Norwegian midfielder slotted past goalkeeper Grace Moloney to make it 2-0 before half-time.
Kerr confirmed victory in the closing stages when she raced through on goal and poked in the rebound after her initial shot was saved.
The Royals’ eight-year stay in the top tier came to an end, but they have defied the odds for several seasons, competing with teams affiliated to Premier League clubs and on much larger budgets.
They could not manage it again this time around, though their fans stayed to applaud warmly after staff and players fell to their knees in disappointment at the full-time whistle.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have shown their grip on the WSL has not loosened despite increasing competition.
This title is perhaps their most impressive given they have had to fight off those challengers while dealing with injury setbacks and illness to manager Hayes.
Their dominance on English women’s football remains strong, and a fourth league crown in a row is clearly a significant achievement.
Elation for Chelsea, despair for Reading
There may have been a sense of jeopardy going into the final weekend of the WSL season with Manchester United sitting just two points behind them, but when Chelsea have a job to do, they usually get it done efficiently.
As fans poured into the stands here, the respective sets of supporters were preparing for very different outcomes.
Chelsea’s were quietly making plans for celebrations but did not dare tempt fate publicly, albeit arriving in plenty of time to show their support on what they knew could be a big day.
As the early minutes ticked away, those same fans began to chant “Chelsea, champions” – but it was Reading who started with intent on the pitch.
Deanne Rose, making a first start since August after recovering from a long-term injury, provided a threat and had an early shot blocked, before Justine Vanhaevermaet skewed a header wide.
But it always felt like a matter of time before Chelsea would kick into gear – and it did not take too long.
Kerr should have scored when she sliced a cross high and over from a few yards out, then Erin Cuthbert’s curling effort was pushed onto the bar by Moloney.
Chelsea fans could eventually celebrate when Kerr’s clinical header arrived in the 18th minute, then Reiten pounced on a mistake by Reading’s Easther Mayi Kith for the second.
Reading were facing an uphill battle and needed a turnaround in the second half which never felt likely.
They had perhaps started to process the reality of relegation last weekend following their defeat at Tottenham – but there were still players distraught at full-time as Reading’s stay in the top tier ended as Chelsea’s celebrations began.
Eriksson given trophy as parting gift
Chelsea had been minutes away from claiming the title a week earlier before United kept themselves in the race with an added-time winner against Manchester City.
Most felt it was only delaying the inevitable though and, sure enough, Chelsea played like champions on Saturday – delivering a clinical performance for their masses of travelling supporters.
It was the perfect afternoon in the sunshine as captain Magdalena Eriksson was given a standing ovation worthy of her contribution to the club when she was substituted late on in her final appearance for the Blues.
She hugged team-mate Maren Mjelde before jogging off to a backdrop of her name being chanted and received a hug from manager Hayes, who had also earlier embraced Pernille Harder – another to be leaving the club in the summer.
As the stage for the trophy lift was being prepared at the full-time whistle on one side of the stadium, Reading’s players were being consoled by their fans at the other end.
It was a remarkable display of contrasting emotions, but the stadium remained full in all stands as Chelsea lifted another trophy – the final of Eriksen’s stellar career in blue.