Two trophies down, two to go for Chelsea
Chelsea are still on course for the quadruple after beating Reading 5-0 at Kingsmeadow to retain their WSL title. Any nerves were calmed when Melanie Leupolz scored in the second minute, and a convincing win ensued. Fran Kirby and the golden boot winner Sam Kerr gave us another demonstration of their unique telepathy, which has been a feature of the whole season. I’ve no doubt Fran will be in contention for the two big player of the year awards. Everybody recognises not just how brilliant she has been, but also what she has achieved after being so ill last season.
Chelsea never forget the influence of their fans. I was at Kingsmeadow and while the supporters were dancing in the car park, the players were on the roof celebrating with them. A house opposite the ground was decorated with Chelsea women’s flags, and one of the neighbours invited me in for a cuppa! The beauty of women’s football was there for all to see both on and off the pitch.
It was also an apt way for Fara Williams to finish her amazing career. She played 90 minutes and was presented with a “WILLIAMS 4” shirt by Chelsea. She grew up supporting Chelsea and that’s where she played her first structured football. It’s lovely that her career went full circle. I look forward to following her if and when she moves into coaching.
Chelsea will play Everton in the last 16 of the FA Cup, but before that it’s the big one: the Champions League final against Barcelona in Gothenburg on Sunday. It’s their chance to become champions of Europe for the first time. Everyone in women’s football in this country should be behind them.
Improving City’s time will surely come
For the fourth year in a row, Manchester City had to settle for second place. They kept their side of the bargain by winning 1-0 at West Ham, but they needed a favour from Reading and that was always unlikely. The title was lost in the autumn when City got off to a really slow start. Gareth Taylor, who replaced Nick Cushing, had no senior women’s football experience so it was always going to take time for him to get his ideas across. They also had to bed in a number of new players, including World Cup-winners Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle, plus the world player of the year Lucy Bronze and her fellow Lionesses Alex Greenwood and Chloe Kelly. They finished very strongly, winning 14 of the last 15 league games, so it’s looking good for them next season – especially if the two American players stay at the club.
New signings can help United bridge the gap
Manchester United’s excellent season ended with a 2-0 win over Everton. Their final position was fourth, the same as last year, but doesn’t reflect their progress. Last season they were 13 points behind Arsenal in third; this year there was only a point between them. Though they’ll be disappointed to miss out on the Champions League, the bigger picture is that they are making great progress. It’s easy to forget that the club was founded only three years ago.
United got off to a flyer, playing some scintillating football, and were top at Christmas. The signing of the World Cup winners Tobin Heath and Christen Press was a real marker of their ambition. Early in the season Heath was up against Lucy Bronze in the Manchester derby. It was a great battle between two of the world’s best players and I thought to myself: “I can’t believe I’m watching this in Manchester.” It’s great for the whole league.
United really missed the injured Heath and Leah Galton in the second half of the season. The players who came in were good but they didn’t have that star quality. I expect a number of signings this summer. Casey Stoney has done an exceptional job and I’m excited for their future. Everton were the best of the rest, finishing in fifth. But Sunday’s defeat meant they finished the season without a win against any of the top four. That’s a psychological hurdle they need to get over as soon as possible.
Montemurro’s exit signals new era at Arsenal
Joe Montemurro’s four-year reign as Arsenal manager ended quietly, with a goalless draw against Aston Villa. It was a frustrating day for Vivianne Miedema, who missed out on a hat-trick of golden boots. But she and Arsenal are back in the Champions League next season, and the competition will be even more profitable after a redistribution of funds.
Montemurro has been a breath of fresh air in his management style and how open he is with the media. He was very well liked at Arsenal. He’s not a bawler and a dictator – his style is quite laissez-faire – and he encourages players to express themselves. I can understand why Arsenal are taking their time to replace him because it’s a really big decision, and one that will tell us a lot about the club’s ambition.
Bristol City’s escape attempt in vain
City were always facing an uphill task to avoid relegation, and it proved beyond them. They needed to win at Brighton and hope that either Birmingham or Villa were beaten. Birmingham did lose at home to Spurs, but City conceded early at Brighton and eventually lost 3-1. Their defending has been a problem all season. I do feel for them. With Leicester coming up Championship winners, all the teams apart from Birmingham are also in the men’s Premier League, and I think that’s the way the Super League is going.
Birmingham have had such a difficult season off the field, never mind on it, and it’s a minor miracle they managed to stay up. From afar it seems like such an unsettling environment. Carla Ward has done a great job to keep everyone positive, and her team showed loads of fight. I’m full of admiration for what they’ve done.
Tottenham finished eighth, and it would be interesting to know how the hierarchy feel about their season, and especially about the decision to sack Karen Hills and Juan Carlos Amoros and bring in Rehanne Skinner. I think the jury is still out.