If there was one thing to rival the level of Sam Kerr’s technique and composure under pressure, it was perhaps her certainty. The striker had predicted she would score a “worldie” to help seal Chelsea’s third consecutive Women’s Super League title, and by the time it was all wrapped up she had scored two. After the first, which brought Chelsea level at 2-2 after they had trailed Manchester United on the final day of the season, she ran over to manager Emma Hayes. “Today is our destiny,” she told her.
“Never in my career have I seen that,” Hayes said afterwards. What followed was inevitable and Kerr knew it, Chelsea’s opponents knew it, and ahead of the Women’s FA Cup final on Sunday it is Manchester City’s challenge to overturn it. They are tasked with bringing down this winning machine, which is itself so certain of its place at the top of English football.
The reason Chelsea are only going for a double and not a second successive treble is because City have previously frustrated them this season. City’s victory in the League Cup final in March proves Chelsea are not unbeatable, even though the form and presence of Kerr can make them appear so on such occasions – and they don’t get much bigger than the FA Cup final at Wembley.
A record-breaking crowd would make it special, but the game itself does not need selling. Both teams come into the final on the backs of long winning runs and you could argue both sides can approach the match in a good frame of mind, having already achieved what they would have targeted at the mid-point of the season.
For Chelsea, it was getting through an intense title race and making sure they beat rivals Arsenal to the league. City have been focused on salvaging Champions League qualification, after recovering from their horrific start, and already having a trophy in the bag helps. There won’t be the same desperation a team like Arsenal or Manchester United, who both narrowly fell short in the WSL, might have had if they had reached this stage.
It sets up a great cup final on paper, but a player with the aura of Kerr can elevate it further. It is what the Australian has done to the English game over the past two seasons. When Kerr made her Chelsea debut in January 2020 it came just weeks before the world shut down due to the pandemic and she did not score in her first six appearances. Chelsea never doubted that the goals would follow – and how they did – but it is the 28-year-old’s sense of timing that separates her from the rest.
Chelsea’s ultimate big-game player was acknowledged by Didier Drogba himself this week, although even he admitted Kerr’s second goal in the WSL clinching victory over United had been “far harder” than any of his chances in cup finals. Everything about it was outrageous, and yet we had been there before – on her last outing at Wembley – with her stunning chip to win last season’s delayed FA Cup final.
Scored six months apart, both goals had much in common. Vision, technique, an ability to recognise the moment, as well as supreme confidence. Kerr made a joke at how awkward she felt as she stepped up to receive the Football Writers’ Player of the Year award last week, but she is transformed when on the pitch. As times like a raging bull, but with a killer instinct, Kerr arrived here already a global star and has not only taken to English football but risen above it.
She has done so in recent weeks without her running mate Fran Kirby, but reflecting a theme of Chelsea’s season, others have stepped up. It was fitting that Chelsea’s goals last Sunday – from Kerr, Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert – all arrived at the right time and when it was needed. Depth off the bench helped, too, with Beth England and Ji So-yun, who along with Pernille Harder will aim to provide service to the focal point.
It is perhaps what is missing from City. Ellen White should start for England this summer given her now unmatched international record, but she scored only four in the WSL this season, while Bunny Shaw has not had the easiest of debut seasons. Lauren Hemp is their top goalscorer after hitting 20 from the left wing and Hayes has always warned her team about the need to shut her down at source. The return of Chloe Kelly on the other side is another bonus for City, in a season that has been about the gradual reassembly of their team following an injury-hit start to the year.
City lost four of their opening seven in the league and were at one point ninth in the table, but they stuck together and have been on the best run in the country since February. While Chelsea have won 11 in a row, City’s run of 13 consecutive victories stretches back further, to February. If it had not been for that start City could have challenged and it is a sign of the talent at their disposal that of Sarina Wiegman’s likely starting line-up at the Euros, there’s a good chance at least five or six will be City players.
There is one more game to go until the Euro build-up can truly begin, however, and what is hoped to be a record-breaking summer can be kicked off with a record-breaking crowd of over 50,000 at Wembley. It is a stage fitting for perhaps the best striker in the game right now, who can lift the occasion up to even higher levels.
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