As Chelsea Ladies celebrated becoming English league
champions for the first time in their history on Sunday,
the contrast to their emotions of one year earlier could
hardly have been greater.
On the final day of the 2014 season, Chelsea players had
tears in their eyes as the Women’s Super League One title
slipped from their grasp and they missed out on goal
difference to Liverpool.
Again, the race went down to the last day, but this time they
completed a league and cup double by overcoming
Sunderland 4-0 to lift the trophy, 23 years to the day after
Chelsea Ladies played their first ever game.
So what was different this time around? How did Emma
Hayes’ side triumph in arguably the most fiercely contested
Women’s Super League season yet?
In winning all of their first four league games while their title
rivals dropped points, Chelsea could hardly have got off to a
They enjoyed a run of 10 games without defeat in all
competitions, heading into the international break for the
Women’s World Cup unbeaten.
Winger Gemma Davison, 27, who joined the club from 2014
champions Liverpool in the winter, made a flying start to the
campaign, scoring a brace on her league debut in Chelsea’s
opening 2-1 win at Notts County.
After their 1-1 draw at Manchester City on 10 May, Chelsea
already had a nine-point advantage over City – an early gap
that would prove crucial.
Despite suffering back-to-back league losses to Sunderland
and City in July, Chelsea always seemed to be best set for
the title thanks to their pre-World Cup form.
A ‘magnificent’ front four
Chelsea’s attacking quartet of Eniola Aluko, Fran Kirby,
Davison, and Ji So-Yun have received widespread praise.
South Korean international Ji, who was crowned the PFA
Women’s Player of the Year in April, is arguably the most
technically gifted player in the league.
“Playing with Ji So-Yun, I can tell you, she’s not just one of
the best players in this league, she’s one of the best in the
world,” Davison told BBC Sport.
Forward Kirby, 22, who was dubbed ‘mini Messi’ by
England boss Mark Sampson after her performances in the
World Cup, signed for Chelsea in July from WSL 2 side
Reading, for whom she had scored 11 goals in five league
appearances in 2015.
Speaking after that deal went through, Chelsea boss Hayes
described Kirby as her side’s “missing piece” and the
“perfect compliment” for Aluko, Davison and Ji.
After their title win, Hayes said: “That front four, when they
get around the outside of teams and play very good football,
they’re capable of beating any team in Europe.”
A world-class defence
Keeping eight clean sheets in 14 league games games this
season showed just how solid Chelsea were at the back.
Aside from a surprise 4-0 thrashing by Sunderland on 18
July, the Blues’ defence has looked almost impenetrable for
most of the season.
Hailed as the world’s best goalkeeper by Hayes, Sweden
international Hedvig Lindahl, 32, has commanded respect
with her error-free, calm displays and has proven extremely
hard to beat.
As well as bringing in Lindahl from Kristianstads DFF in
December, Chelsea signed Ireland central defender
Niamh Fahey from Arsenal in the same month and she
quickly formed a partnership that has flourished with fellow
centre-back Gilly Flaherty.
Flaherty has also shown her class at the other end of the
pitch, contributing four league goals.
Add to all the above with the ever-reliable full-back pairing
of Hannah Blundell and Claire Rafferty and you have a team
destined for success.
A captain who has been there and done it before
If you have ever seen a picture of an English women’s team
lifting a domestic trophy, the chances are, more often that
not, Katie Chapman was in that picture.
Having won the FA Cup nine times with five different clubs,
and now seven league titles, she is one of the most
decorated players in English football.
The 33-year-old former Millwall Lionesses, Fulham,
Charlton, Chicago Red Stars and Arsenal player was also a
key part of the England side that finished third at this
summer’s World Cup in Canada.
Finding a ‘champion’s mentality’
Winning the FA Cup in August, and in doing so lifting the
first major trophy in the club’s history, Chelsea developed a
“champion’s mentality”, according to defender Flaherty.
“Before that final, only a few of us were champions, winning
previously in some way,” she told BBC London 94.9 in
“Everyone here is a winner now. There’s a new breed of
confidence among the players and it’s made them hungry
“Every single person at our club is a champion. We’ve
experienced that feeling of winning together and you can’t
beat that feeling of winning with your mates.”
The respected boss
In post-match interviews, Hayes has never wavered from her
firm, determined belief that her side could win the league
Born in Camden, London, the 38-year-old is proud to
manage Chelsea and has drawn on her experience of
previously coaching in America and serving as Arsenal
Ladies’ assistant first-team coach for three years.
Measured, ambitious and focused, her calm approach has
undoubtedly helped reassure her players of their potential.
And the respect she commands within the game has also
helped her attract the players she wants, especially with the
signing of Davison.
Davison said: “I’ve known Emma for a very long time. I am
truly grateful that she brought me to the club. Playing for
her is special to me.”
Hayes, assisted by Paul Green and former Middlesbrough
player Robert Udberg, has built a strong team around her.
With Chelsea about to embark on their first-ever Champions
League campaign, the question now is precisely how many
trophies could this team go on to win?
Chelsea Ladies: WSL 1 results
Notts County 1-2 Chelsea Bristol Academy 0-4 Chelsea
Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool Birmingham City 0-1 Chelsea
Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea
Chelsea 4-1 Bristol Academy Sunderland 4-0 Chelsea
Chelsea 1-2 Manchester City Chelsea 4-0 Birmingham City
Arsenal 0-2 Chelsea Chelsea 2-1 Notts County
Liverpool 0-4 Chelsea Chelsea 4-0 Sunderland
As Chelsea Ladies celebrated becoming English league