Chelsea and Emma Hayes find a stunning new way to celebrate the inevitable

Chelsea and Emma Hayes find a stunning new way to celebrate the inevitable

Emma Hayes pumped her fist for one last time, long after the tension of the afternoon had turned into celebration. After 12 years, Hayes will leave Chelsea as champions of England for the fifth season in a row, a dynasty of domestic dominance sealed with a crushing 6-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford. For that, Hayes has Mayra Ramirez to thank. The striker was unstoppable, shattering the tension of the final day and taking the title race away from Manchester City, Chelsea’s closest challenger. City had to beat Aston Villa and overturn Chelsea’s goal difference to end their dominance, but Ramirez turned their mission into an impossible task. City were beaten in the race before full-time confirmed that Chelsea were champions again.

And so, after a season full of twists and turns, the Women’s Super League finished with a familiar look: Chelsea as champions, the packed away section at Old Trafford serenading Hayes and her players. Hayes rallied one last performance that encapsulated Chelsea’s relentless. They were ruthless and clinical while Manchester United, having won the FA Cup last weekend, salvaging their season and perhaps taking the edge off this final game, were ripped apart by Ramirez, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd and Guro Reiten.

It led to glum faces on the City bench at Villa Park. Gareth Taylor’s side were aiming to win their first league title since 2016 but will instead be left to regret a late collapse against Arsenal in their penultimate fixture, which opened the door for Chelsea’s late revival. The timing of Chelsea’s goals, striking early in both halves, put the title beyond City by the hour. Level on points before the game but with Hayes’s side two ahead on goal difference, Chelsea made the start that City desperately required. Hayes told her players to control what they could control, and like so many of their seasons under the 47-year-old, they were unrelenting.

Emma Hayes punches the air as Chelsea thrashed Manchester United to win the WSL (The FA via Getty Images)

It was a performance powered by the unplayable Ramirez, who put everything into the 57 minutes she was on the pitch and led Chelsea on their way. The Colombian, signed in January for a world record fee, saved her most devastating display for the final day of the season. Ramirez was emphatic: scoring the first inside just 90 seconds with a towering back-post header, setting up the second for Rytting Kaneryd and third for Sjoeke Nusken, thumping a fourth in first-half stoppage time with a thunderous burst and finish into the far corner.

With each goal, as the nerves dissipated, Hayes’s celebrations became more triumphant. When Ramirez met Reiten’s floated cross to the back post inside two minutes, there was a clarity to how Chelsea responded, an awareness that a one-goal lead could, in time, be insufficient. Hayes allowed herself just a moment to turn and release some tension, but was then back to adjusting Chelsea’s shape. The second brought a more impassioned first pump, the third and fourth with roars towards the Chelsea fans. By the fifth, scored by Melanie Leupolz after half-time, Hayes held her hands on her head in disbelief.

It was a fitting end, in some ways, not least that a fifth title in a row was sealed by the departing Fran Kirby, who added the sixth late on. Chelsea have not always been the best version of themselves this season and there is an argument that City have been the best side in the country. But Chelsea, by going deep in all three cup competitions, have had a more demanding schedule and picked up injuries at difficult times. They have saved themselves for when it really matters. If that did not come in the FA Cup or League Cup, it arrived in the Champions League and WSL, in beating Barcelona away from home, or thumping Manchester United on the final day. When Chelsea are focused, they can really click.

Mayra Ramirez starred as Chelsea crushed United (The FA via Getty Images)

With the permutations set, Ramirez’s header inside just 90 seconds immediately changed everything, instead putting even more pressure on Taylor’s side at Villa Park. Ramirez played another pivotal part in the second after eight minutes, holding off Millie Turner before slipping in Rytting Kaneryd. Ramirez was too strong for Turner, just as Rytting Kaneryd was too quick for Hannah Blundell. Ramirez continued to torment Turner: easing past the England defender to set up a tap-in for Nusken, only on as a substitute moments before. The fourth was a joke: receiving possession on the edge of the box, Ramirez forced a way between Blundell and Lisa Naalsund, producing the finish to match.

Ramirez seized control and ensured the momentum never left Chelsea, even when Maya Le Tissier hit the bar from Katie Zelem’s corner or, at Villa Park, Mary Fowler struck to put City into the lead, the title race back on points once again. City looked to freeze in the aftermath of Chelsea’s early double and became frustrated when their dominance did not turn into the goals they desperately craved. Rachel Daly’s equaliser in the second half came when the drama of the day had long since faded. Lauren Hemp still collected the ball from the back of the net when she restored City’s lead, but she did so forlornly.

Man City were devastated as the title slipped away (Getty Images)

Chelsea were in party mode by then. No team had won the WSL in its current format while losing three games, but Chelsea prevailed throughout the season to change that record. Kirby slotted a stylish sixth in front of the away end after coming off the bench, a final goal for the 30-year-old after so many trophies in blue. “Emma, what’s the score?” cried the Chelsea fans in the corner, and Hayes responded with a wave of six fingers. After the nerves and the tension, there has never been dominance like this. Now, there may not be again.