Chelsea will leapfrog Manchester United into first place in the WSL table if they win their league next game, having cut the gap on the current leaders to just a single point by thrashing Leicester.
Emma Hayes’ reigning champions had fallen seven points behind on Sunday afternoon after United had enjoyed a comfortable win over Tottenham and they were yet to kick off in their evening fixture against Everton, which eventually finished 7-0.
Just as against Everton, it was a quick and dominant start at Kingsmeadow against struggling Leicester. There was no Sam Kerr, left on the bench after coming off early at the weekend following sickness and due to calf cramp, but Guro Reiten needed only eight minutes to score.
She had been supplied by Pernille Harder, who has been in red hot form since returning from long-term injury in recent weeks. The Dane went on to score two of her own before half-time, with Erin Cuthbert having already doubled Chelsea’s lead by that point.
Lauren James scored a scorcher of a fifth not long after half-time, cutting in from the right and lashing the ball into the top corner with weaker left foot, while Jelena Cankovic netted Chelsea’s sixth of the night in stoppage time at the end of the game.
13 goals without reply in two WSL games from Chelsea has wiped out United’s goal difference advantage in the space of 72 hours, which had the potential to serve as an extra point if needed.
Just days away from facing United in the FA Cup final at Wembley, Hayes took the opportunity to withdraw Harder, Reiten, James and Cuthbert after little more than an hour to ensure as much freshness as possible. There was also the added bonus of Kadeisha Buchanan’s return.
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Once the final has been played, Chelsea still have a game in hand in the WSL. They will play that next Wednesday when they travel across London to face West Ham that have taken only one point from a possible 21 against the top four this season. With United not in action in the league again until the following weekend (20/21 May), Chelsea will expect to be top and in the driving seat by then.
At that stage, there will be no more games in hand and so whoever is in first place going into the penultimate round of fixtures will see the title as theirs to lose.
One major thing that could count against Chelsea at this stage is the potential for fatigue. The Blues have played 14 times across four competitions since 5 March, a period during which United have been in action only nine times – and without international travel.
“I personally don’t feel mentally tired,” Erin Cuthbert said.
“We’ve been in a lot of tournaments but certain things and certain turning points give you energy. The performance against Lyon in the home leg [of the Champions League quarter-finals] certainly gave us a lot of energy.
“Even just going to Barcelona and the Camp Nou and showing what we were capable of gave everybody in the dressing room a lift. We were gutted to go out but the dressing room saw it as a turning point and fuel the fire to really kick on. We all said ‘this is time to go on and win two titles’.”