Manchester United pipped to WSL title by Chelsea despite victory at Liverpool

The Women’s Super League is a simple game: 12 teams play each other twice over nine months and Chelsea lift the title at the end of it. Manchester United ran them close but, despite this final-day victory at Liverpool, the Blues won their fourth championship in a row.

The permutations were against United and they did not look like a side who believed they would be able to pull off a Hollywood ending on a sunny afternoon in Birkenhead, despite Lucía García’s 72nd-minute winner.

There was a certain degree of intent but little more. United’s best chance of the first half saw Nikita Parris latch on to a long ball over the top and whack it across Rachael Laws but the goalkeeper managed to fingertip the shot on to a post.

They were not their fluid selves and Liverpool were happy to soak up pressure. The biggest cheer of the first 65 minutes arrived when Mary Earps kicked the ball out of the ground; even García’s well-taken finish did not match it for decibels. It was one of those days.

Liverpool paraded six departing players, including the club’s record-appearance holder, Ash Hodson, before the match, each receiving a commemorative short film and a bouquet of flowers. There was an end-of-season feel at Prenton Park in front of a record women’s attendance at the ground, with Liverpool celebrating a more than respectable mid-table finish upon their return to the top flight.

“The ambition this year was to stay in the division because the teams that come up struggle,” said the Liverpool manager, Matt Beard. “I don’t think we have struggled. We will take a lot of confidence and belief from the way we progressed over the course of the year.”

A dejected Alessia Russo with her hands on her hips during Manchester United’s futile victory against Liverpool.
A dejected Alessia Russo during Manchester United’s futile victory against Liverpool. The striker is out of contract this summer. Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images

The important thing for United is that they are improving year-on-year under Marc Skinner. They have secured their highest finish in the Women’s Super League to qualify for the Champions League, reached the FA Cup final and beat Manchester City in the derby in front of a record crowd at Leigh. It is a platform to build on.

There is a constant necessity for Skinner to evolve personally and the team to do likewise. He is set to lose the right-back Ona Batlle, who looks likely to return to Barcelona. The Spaniard has been integral to United’s success and will be a hard player to replace. The future of the striker Alessia Russo is also up in the air, with the England international heading to the World Cup with her contract running out. She was the subject of a world-record bid from Arsenal this season and they could return to sign Russo for nothing.

“I hope we can convince them to stay,” Skinner said. “If I was them, I wouldn’t want to leave this team because of what we are achieving.”

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Even Skinner admitted “a miracle” had been required to win the title at Chelsea’s expense. To give themselves any hope, goals – and plenty of them – were needed to overcome the goal difference in case a draw at Reading left the top two level on points, but clearcut chances were absent. Defence is not a worry for United – they conceded the fewest goals in the league – and they kept Liverpool at arm’s length too, another individual marker of success.

It was not a case of United losing the title here, but one of Chelsea winning it thanks to another relentless season. Two points does not look like a massive gap but Skinner and United know there is plenty of hard work to be done to catch up.


Will Unwin at Prenton Park

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