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Sports How Chelsea and Emma Hayes won back-to-back Women's Super League titles

01:40  10 may  2021
01:40  10 may  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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Champions.

For the first time in the history of their women's team, Chelsea will boast that status for a second successive season.

On Sunday, they retained their Women's Super League title in style, beating seventh placed Reading 5-0 in a game that oozed the confidence, swagger and style that has allowed them to get their hands on the silverware once more.

What made it even more special is that this was the most difficult WSL title to win yet. Hayes described it as "no doubt my favourite" after the game, explaining: "Teams have invested, some heavily. It's not like the competition was, 'Oh Chelsea have spent all the money and the rest haven't'. No. It doesn't work like that.

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"I think there were four teams, to be fair, that could have been in with a shout at the title at one point or another. This is the hardest one. The fact that it's gone to the last day demonstrates that."

Manchester City did their best this year - signing World Cup and Champions League winners - but ultimately fell short on the final day. Arsenal and Manchester United dropped off some weeks ago. In the end, Chelsea prevailed, and have now won the WSL a record four times.

How did they do it, then? There are a number of ways to explain it.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: Chelsea Women 2020-21 © Provided by Sporting News Chelsea Women 2020-21

There are the obvious factors, to start, such as the fact they didn’t lose to Man City, their closest rivals, in either of their league meetings. Two points was the difference between the pair in the end, a gap Chelsea helped establish by beating City 3-1 in October, and not losing the reverse fixture in April.

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Consistency is another huge element of their success – both in results, with one defeat all season, and in the fact that they’ve now scored in each of their last 80 competitive outings, a streak spanning over two years.

But the overriding factor in Sunday’s triumph was best showcased by the 23 players who have featured in the WSL for Chelsea this season coming together to celebrate. It is the depth of Hayes’ squad, but also the way that depth has been utilised throughout the season, that saw them come out on top.

Every single player has had a moment this season which has been crucial to this title, be it someone like Sam Kerr, with a Golden Boot-winning 21 goals, or a player like Drew Spence, who has only made two league starts, but acts as a perfect example of the way the depth has been used.

On Wednesday, she came into midfield against Tottenham for a must-win game. Her involvement allowed Melanie Leupolz, one of the stand-out players in the league this year, to be rested for Sunday and, despite Spence not starting as much as others this year, there was no sign of rust.

Hayes was full of praise for the midfielder in particular this week, explaining how she's more valuable to the team now than she's ever been. "Drew has been with me from the very beginning. She's a voice of reason and she's been in this position more than anybody else in this dressing room," she explained.

The entire squad appreciates what those on the bench bring too. “You've got players who maybe haven't played as much as they wanted to, but they still come into training every day, and they give 110% regardless of what their situation is, or how many minutes they've got," Fran Kirby said last month. "I think that is the biggest game-changer for us this year.”

Jess Carter and Niamh Charles are among those to have done the same. Since Maren Mjelde suffered a season-ending knee injury in March’s Continental Cup victory, the pair have shared right-back duties, despite neither normally playing the position. The way they’ve both adapted to playing suddenly more regularly in a role slightly unfamiliar has been ever so impressive.

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These examples are a testament to the incredible levels in training – something that has been a staple of success at Lyon, the seven-time European champions that Chelsea are trying to emulate. “That's what the environment demands,” Hayes said.

Chelsea Women 2020-21 © Provided by Sporting News Chelsea Women 2020-21

But it’s also evidence of how special this group is when it comes to working for one another. Credit must also be given to their manager for creating an atmosphere that makes players want to run through brick walls for each other, and also for signing the right people – not just the best players.

One of Hayes’ regular methods for preparing this group is by showing them motivating videos of stories around the world, not just in sport. Before last week’s Champions League semi-final comeback against Bayern Munich, the inspiration came from UFC fighter Rose Namajunas, the reigning strawweight champion.

But the video she’s shown her team that most resonates with their WSL title triumph is one of, well, geese.

“I’ve shown them why they fly in V formations, what its purpose is, what everybody’s role is, how they communicate, how they support each other and, importantly, you fly further together,” Hayes explained.

“That’s the bottom line. They wouldn’t be getting from the winter to the sun without going together. It’s the same for my team. Sometimes different people take the lead but, ultimately, where we’re trying to go needs everyone to play a part in it.”

Hayes deserves all the credit she gets, as much as she will deflect it, but so does everyone who has played their part in a truly fantastic, record-breaking season.

It's not over yet, though. Next up: the UEFA Women's Champions League final.

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