Jessy Parker Humphreys wraps up the big talking points from this season’s final WSL gameweek..
Chelsea calmly march to a second consecutive WSL trophy
Winning when you are playing well is one thing, but winning when you are playing badly is the mark of a side at the very top of their game. Chelsea never looked uncomfortable in their must-win game against Reading – predominantly thanks to a strike in the opening minute from Melanie Leupolz – but there were large portions of this game where they looked below their best, perhaps tired out from a busy week.
Regardless, this game may as well have been Chelsea’s ‘Greatest Hits’ album. Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby combined for three goals, with the third being particularly special as Kirby scooped a cross over the Reading defence for Kerr to tap in. The introduction of Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert, two players aware this was their last opportunity to make an impression on their manager ahead of the Champions League final, saw the side pick up the pace and flair. The fact that last season’s Player of the Year Beth England did not even make it onto the pitch served as yet another remind of how strong this squad is.
In the end, the 5-0 win probably flattered Chelsea, but given it was their victory parade, it is hard to hold it against them.
Bristol City’s valiant effort to stay in the WSL comes to an end
For all the possible permutations at the start of the day, in the end the relegation battle was quite simple: the side who began bottom went down. It has been a heroic effort from Bristol City to even have been in with a shout of staying up on the last day of the season, but in the end they ran out of time.
The team had only two points when Matt Beard took over mid-season, but they went on to pick up some memorable wins against Reading and Brighton to give them a chance of clinging on. Ultimately, however, beating Brighton for a second time was a step too far and the 3-1 loss sent them down.
It is a different second division to when they were last there, with many of the teams operating close to full-time set ups, so an immediate return will not be guaranteed.
Liverpool have given fair warning of that. For now, it remains to be seen how many of their players they will hold onto, with all eyes in particular on whether 20-year-old forward Ebony Salmon moves on.
Manchester City’s American flag falters
If Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle were looking to bow out of their time at Manchester City on a high, then it did not go to plan in their 1-0 win against West Ham. Both missed penalties as City finished in second place for the fourth consecutive season.
Faced with the knowledge that they only really had a shot at the title if Chelsea slipped up against Reading, with modelling company FiveThirtyEight giving the Blues a 96% chance of winning the league, City had little to play for in this fixture. Yet we could be looking at quite a changed team for next season. With Mewis and Lavelle seemingly expected to leave in the summer, and Chloe Kelly likely to be out for a while with her ACL injury, Manchester City look suddenly much lighter.
After the match, Gareth Taylor revealed that even in the Community Shield fixture at the start of the season he felt Chelsea were several transfer windows ahead of them. It seems like Manchester City will once again be looking to make extensive moves in the transfer market.
Birmingham City hold on despite having everything thrown at them
In Birmingham City’s season, everything that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong. Whether it’s been players breaking COVID regulations, or enforced moves away from their home ground, all their hard work on the pitch was consistently at risk of being undone by what was happening off the pitch.
When they were deducted a point for fielding Ruesha Littlejohn when she should have been suspended, it felt like this could end up being one step too far for the side. Yet despite losing 1-0 to Tottenham, Birmingham will play WSL football next year. Once the celebrations are done though, the club needs to take a long look at how they let so much go wrong.
Rebuilds needed from Tottenham and Aston Villa
Both Tottenham and Aston Villa will be pleased with the results they picked up on the final day of the season. Villa’s point against Arsenal made them the only side in the bottom third of the table to take points off those in the top third, whilst Tottenham were able to end a run of ten games without a win by beating Birmingham.
Yet neither club should rest on their laurels for too long. Despite having strong squads, both clubs feel like they have underperformed this season. Their management changes struggled to alter their form, and Tottenham were lucky to not be involved in the relegation fight having been handed three points due to Birmingham’s forfeit. They will require a bit more vision and determination if they are to succeed next season.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph