Chelsea are queens of the WSL run-in but pitfalls lie in wait

Erin Cuthburt - Chelsea are queens of the WSL run-in but pitfalls lie in wait

Chelsea sent out a reminder to Manchester City that they are the queens of the run-in when their victory over West Ham put them back on top of the Women’s Super League on goal difference.

They have proven over their past four consecutive WSL titles that they are nerveless in the finale to every season. Chelsea and City look poised for a gripping sprint to the finishing line, with each having five league games left each and only two goals separating them.

History suggests nobody should bet against Chelsea. Since the WSL switched to a winter calendar in 2017-18, they have never lost a league fixture in April or May. They have dropped points in those months once – drawing away at City in April 2021 – and even that did not count as a negative, as securing that away draw kept the title in their own hands. Nobody copes with pressure better.

However, if they are to make it five titles in a row in Emma Hayes’s farewell season, this would surely be the hardest-fought yet with a congested schedule awaiting them.

First, comparing their remaining fixture list with City’s highlights a vast difference. Gareth Taylor’s side have only their five league matches remaining, while Chelsea, could have to play at least twice as many as they are competing for up to four major trophies. If they see off Ajax in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday – which they will be expected to at 3-0 up – they will be guaranteed to play a further nine matches after that. That includes a two-leg European semi-final, next week’s League Cup final, an FA Cup semi-final and their remaining WSL fixtures.

Should Hayes’s team reach both the finals of the Women’s FA Cup and the Champions League, it would mean they would play 12 games before May 25. With an injury list that includes Sam Kerr, Millie Bright and Mia Fischel, that sounds tough.

Emma Hayes
Can Emma Hayes say farewell to Chelsea with another title? - Getty Images/Andrew Redington

Another unusual aspect of the fixture list means Chelsea might not play another WSL match for over a month, potentially disrupting their title-chasing momentum, so will have games in hand until mid-May.

Next weekend’s League Cup final will be followed by the April women’s international break, and then the FA Cup semi-finals and the European semi-finals, all scheduled for consecutive weekends.

Overriding all of those factors, though, is Chelsea’s winning mentality. Their resilience and their battling resolve were demonstrated at the Chigwell Construction Stadium, where they had to dig deep to get all three points against Rehanne Skinner’s team.

Chelsea’s goal lived a charmed life in the first half, as West Ham’s Riko Ueki struck the crossbar and the hosts were denied a goal when Honoka Hayashi was incorrectly ruled to have been offside before finding the net.

Aggie Beever-Jones’ sixth goal of the season, finished from close range after a good ball from Lauren James after two minutes, had put Chelsea ahead, and late on Erin Cuthbert fired in spectacularly to wrap up the  win.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.