Chelsea Ladies: How Women's Super League title was won

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Highlights: Chelsea Ladies 4-0 Sunderland Ladies

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?

Chelsea Ladies

Solid start

In winning all of their first four league games while their title rivals dropped points, Chelsea could hardly have got off to a better start.

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.

Gemma Davison
Gemma Davison, who scored the fourth against Sunderland on Sunday, netted five goals in her first four appearances for Chelsea

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

David Parker

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.

Chelsea Ladies celebrate WSL 1 title
Chelsea Ladies beat Sunderland 4-0 on Sunday to secure their first league title

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

Gilly Flaherty
Gilly Flaherty's Chelsea performances earned her an England call-up for the first squad since the World Cup

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

Katie Chapman
Katie Chapman's experience in central midfield has been invaluable to Chelsea Ladies

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 August.

"Everyone here is a winner now. There's a new breed of confidence among the players and it's made them hungry for more.

"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

Emma Hayes
There has been a balanced feel to the 4-2-3-1 formation used by Emma Hayes at Chelsea

In post-match interviews, Hayes has never wavered from her firm, determined belief that her side could win the league this year.

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 ChelseaBristol Academy 0-4 Chelsea
Chelsea 1-0 LiverpoolBirmingham City 0-1 Chelsea
Chelsea 0-0 ArsenalManchester City 1-1 Chelsea
Chelsea 4-1 Bristol AcademySunderland 4-0 Chelsea
Chelsea 1-2 Manchester CityChelsea 4-0 Birmingham City
Arsenal 0-2 ChelseaChelsea 2-1 Notts County
Liverpool 0-4 ChelseaChelsea 4-0 Sunderland

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