Day of drama sets up thrilling WSL finale as Chelsea hit back in title race

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Emma Hayes declared the Women's Super League title race to be over in midweek. By the end of Sunday, she was rethinking that claim.

Manchester City approached Sunday's Women's Super League fixtures with the title race firmly in their hands, their meeting with Arsenal giving them a chance to put one hand on the trophy.

City's chances of a first WSL title since 2016 had received a massive boost in midweek as rivals Chelsea suffered a stunning 4-3 defeat to Liverpool.

That result sent shockwaves through the league and left the Blues' hopes of a fifth straight WSL success hanging by a thread, so much so that boss Emma Hayes declared the title race to be over.

Chelsea entered the weekend six points behind City with a game in hand, with Gareth Taylor's team also leading the way on goal difference by seven goals and potentially needing just one win to take the title.

However, this rollercoaster of a season took yet another turn on a super Sunday for the ages.

The early kick-off

It was an emotional start to the day at the Joie Stadium, as City waved goodbye to club legend Steph Houghton ahead of their final home game of the season, giving her a guard of honour for a decade of service in sky blue. 

As expected, the game matched the electric atmosphere created by a record crowd of 5,409 fans, with both teams looking to get on the front foot in a high-octane start to the game.

Lauren Hemp proved once again why both Taylor and Sarina Wiegman put so much faith in her, receiving a lay-off from Leila Ouahabi and finding room to smash her shot into the corner 17 minutes in, leaving Manuela Zinsberger with no chance.

Hemp has now contributed to at least one goal in each of her last four WSL appearances (two goals, three assists), but she and her city team-mates would rue their missed opportunities after a dominant first half.

After the interval, Arsenal showed why they had been so close to Chelsea and City for much of this campaign.

Substitute Stina Blackstenius, having denied Chelsea their first opportunity of silverware in the League Cup final, was also the villain of City's story, poking home from close range after City failed to deal with a corner after 89 minutes.

The drama was not done there, though, with Blackstenius delivering an even bigger blow to City's title chances three minutes later. Kim Little floated her pass over the hosts' defence, and the Swede was totally unmarked as she headed home two minutes into stoppage time.

Arsenal have now scored eight goals via substitutes in the WSL this campaign, a tally only bettered by Manchester United (nine). The Gunners have also scored 14 goals in the final 15 minutes of games, with United (16) the only team with more in that period. 

City boss Taylor cut a disappointed figure after the game, telling BBC Sport: "I always said I thought it would go to the final game and it's never changed. We knew what we had to do.

"We will pick ourselves up. We've always reacted well to negative results. We wanted to be in control and we've lost a little bit of that, but we still have one more game.

"It's not easy. You've seen today how the momentum can be in your favour and quickly be taken from you.

"Chelsea opened the door the other night and we've opened it back again a little bit. It is what it is, but nothing has changed in our thought process."

Arsenal have now won 13 points from losing positions in the WSL this season, more than any other team. Jonas Eidevall's side just fell short of being involved in the title picture themselves, but their win on Sunday kept rivals Chelsea in with a realistic shot of glory.

"Those sorts of things, we can't really control," he told BBC Sport. "It just shows what we are as a team and that we never give up.

"We put in a really strong performance and now it's up to other teams to put in strong performances. It's not really any of my business who is going to win."

The late kick-off

Later on Sunday, it was Chelsea's turn to provide an emotional farewell, with Emma Hayes taking charge of her final game at Kingsmeadow as she prepares to take the United States job after 12 years with the Blues.

Hayes was welcomed to the field with rapturous applause, looking emotional as she held the hand of her son Harry, surveying the home crowd for the final time as Chelsea manager. Sunday's match also represented a home send-off for the club's leading goalscorer Fran Kirby and defender Maren Mjelde, both of whom will leave this summer.

Having suffered Champions League heartache and seen their title hopes dented in a week to forget, Hayes' team had nothing to lose against already-relegated Bristol City, and that is exactly how they played.

Hayes made six changes to her lineup and the tiredness that plagued Chelsea in midweek was gone, the Blues never looking back once they went ahead through Guro Reiten's sixth-minute penalty.

Sjoeke Nusken struck a scrappy second before the in-form Aggie Beever-Jones added a third shortly after the break. Reiten then added a fourth with a screamer from outside the area. 

Knowing the importance of goal difference after City's slip-up, Chelsea continued to throw players forward. Macario slid in Reiten to clinch her hat-trick from a tight angle, and after Niamh Charles had made it 6-0, the Norwegian added her fourth of the game with another rasping long-range strike.

Reiten then turned provider and crossed for Beever-Jones to head in Chelsea's eighth. Beever-Jones has now contributed to eight goals in her last five league games (six goals, two assists), stepping up after injuries deprived the Blues of key players.

Chelsea were clinical with their 20 shots, scoring eight goals in a WSL game for the first time since beating Leicester City by the same scoreline in December 2022 to put Wednesday's defeat firmly in the rearview mirror.

Now one better off than City on goal difference, Chelsea know a victory over Tottenham in their game in hand on Wednesday will take them top ahead of the final set of fixtures on Saturday.  

Hayes addressed the home faithful at Kingsmeadow with her players watching on after the game, rowing back on her earlier claim that the title race was over.

"Let me be clear. It is not over," she declared. "There is no time for sentimentality. All work drinks are cancelled, there is a title to be won.

"You know what? That group of players taught me something so special this week; that you never ever give up. This is what it means to be Chelsea."

Speaking to Sky Sports, Hayes added: "We wanted to make sure it was a game to remember for the fans.

"That shows when you have belief. I said to the players that if Man City slip up, we had to be ready. Today was another opportunity to get closer to something that was slipping out of our grasp.

"If you told me at the beginning of the day Arsenal would beat City in the last five minutes and we would win 8-0, what are the odds of that? I'm super proud. Days like today are everything Chelsea represents."

The Opta Supercomputer still makes City favourites after a dramatic day, though, giving Taylor's team a 55.1 per cent chance of breaking Chelsea's dominance and spoiling Hayes' leaving party.

Day of drama sets up thrilling WSL finale as Chelsea hit back in title race

Emma Hayes declared the Women's Super League title race to be over in midweek. By the end of Sunday, she was rethinking that claim.

Manchester City approached Sunday's Women's Super League fixtures with the title race firmly in their hands, their meeting with Arsenal giving them a chance to put one hand on the trophy.

City's chances of a first WSL title since 2016 had received a massive boost in midweek as rivals Chelsea suffered a stunning 4-3 defeat to Liverpool.

That result sent shockwaves through the league and left the Blues' hopes of a fifth straight WSL success hanging by a thread, so much so that boss Emma Hayes declared the title race to be over.

Chelsea entered the weekend six points behind City with a game in hand, with Gareth Taylor's team also leading the way on goal difference by seven goals and potentially needing just one win to take the title.

However, this rollercoaster of a season took yet another turn on a super Sunday for the ages.

The early kick-off

It was an emotional start to the day at the Joie Stadium, as City waved goodbye to club legend Steph Houghton ahead of their final home game of the season, giving her a guard of honour for a decade of service in sky blue. 

As expected, the game matched the electric atmosphere created by a record crowd of 5,409 fans, with both teams looking to get on the front foot in a high-octane start to the game.

Lauren Hemp proved once again why both Taylor and Sarina Wiegman put so much faith in her, receiving a lay-off from Leila Ouahabi and finding room to smash her shot into the corner 17 minutes in, leaving Manuela Zinsberger with no chance.

Hemp has now contributed to at least one goal in each of her last four WSL appearances (two goals, three assists), but she and her city team-mates would rue their missed opportunities after a dominant first half.

After the interval, Arsenal showed why they had been so close to Chelsea and City for much of this campaign.

Substitute Stina Blackstenius, having denied Chelsea their first opportunity of silverware in the League Cup final, was also the villain of City's story, poking home from close range after City failed to deal with a corner after 89 minutes.

The drama was not done there, though, with Blackstenius delivering an even bigger blow to City's title chances three minutes later. Kim Little floated her pass over the hosts' defence, and the Swede was totally unmarked as she headed home two minutes into stoppage time.

Arsenal have now scored eight goals via substitutes in the WSL this campaign, a tally only bettered by Manchester United (nine). The Gunners have also scored 14 goals in the final 15 minutes of games, with United (16) the only team with more in that period. 

City boss Taylor cut a disappointed figure after the game, telling BBC Sport: "I always said I thought it would go to the final game and it's never changed. We knew what we had to do.

"We will pick ourselves up. We've always reacted well to negative results. We wanted to be in control and we've lost a little bit of that, but we still have one more game.

"It's not easy. You've seen today how the momentum can be in your favour and quickly be taken from you.

"Chelsea opened the door the other night and we've opened it back again a little bit. It is what it is, but nothing has changed in our thought process."

Arsenal have now won 13 points from losing positions in the WSL this season, more than any other team. Jonas Eidevall's side just fell short of being involved in the title picture themselves, but their win on Sunday kept rivals Chelsea in with a realistic shot of glory.

"Those sorts of things, we can't really control," he told BBC Sport. "It just shows what we are as a team and that we never give up.

"We put in a really strong performance and now it's up to other teams to put in strong performances. It's not really any of my business who is going to win."

The late kick-off

Later on Sunday, it was Chelsea's turn to provide an emotional farewell, with Emma Hayes taking charge of her final game at Kingsmeadow as she prepares to take the United States job after 12 years with the Blues.

Hayes was welcomed to the field with rapturous applause, looking emotional as she held the hand of her son Harry, surveying the home crowd for the final time as Chelsea manager. Sunday's match also represented a home send-off for the club's leading goalscorer Fran Kirby and defender Maren Mjelde, both of whom will leave this summer.

Having suffered Champions League heartache and seen their title hopes dented in a week to forget, Hayes' team had nothing to lose against already-relegated Bristol City, and that is exactly how they played.

Hayes made six changes to her lineup and the tiredness that plagued Chelsea in midweek was gone, the Blues never looking back once they went ahead through Guro Reiten's sixth-minute penalty.

Sjoeke Nusken struck a scrappy second before the in-form Aggie Beever-Jones added a third shortly after the break. Reiten then added a fourth with a screamer from outside the area. 

Knowing the importance of goal difference after City's slip-up, Chelsea continued to throw players forward. Macario slid in Reiten to clinch her hat-trick from a tight angle, and after Niamh Charles had made it 6-0, the Norwegian added her fourth of the game with another rasping long-range strike.

Reiten then turned provider and crossed for Beever-Jones to head in Chelsea's eighth. Beever-Jones has now contributed to eight goals in her last five league games (six goals, two assists), stepping up after injuries deprived the Blues of key players.

Chelsea were clinical with their 20 shots, scoring eight goals in a WSL game for the first time since beating Leicester City by the same scoreline in December 2022 to put Wednesday's defeat firmly in the rearview mirror.

Now one better off than City on goal difference, Chelsea know a victory over Tottenham in their game in hand on Wednesday will take them top ahead of the final set of fixtures on Saturday.  

Hayes addressed the home faithful at Kingsmeadow with her players watching on after the game, rowing back on her earlier claim that the title race was over.

"Let me be clear. It is not over," she declared. "There is no time for sentimentality. All work drinks are cancelled, there is a title to be won.

"You know what? That group of players taught me something so special this week; that you never ever give up. This is what it means to be Chelsea."

Speaking to Sky Sports, Hayes added: "We wanted to make sure it was a game to remember for the fans.

"That shows when you have belief. I said to the players that if Man City slip up, we had to be ready. Today was another opportunity to get closer to something that was slipping out of our grasp.

"If you told me at the beginning of the day Arsenal would beat City in the last five minutes and we would win 8-0, what are the odds of that? I'm super proud. Days like today are everything Chelsea represents."

The Opta Supercomputer still makes City favourites after a dramatic day, though, giving Taylor's team a 55.1 per cent chance of breaking Chelsea's dominance and spoiling Hayes' leaving party.

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