Gareth Taylor says that Manchester City will "come back fighting" after losing out on the Women’s Super League title on the final day.

City beat Aston Villa 2-1 thanks to goals from Mary Fowler and Lauren Hemp on Saturday, but ultimately fell just short, missing out to Chelsea on goal difference.

Emma Hayes led the Blues to a fifth consecutive WSL title with a 6-0 thrashing of Manchester United at Old Trafford, having made up their inferior goal difference with an equally impressive 8-0 win over Bristol City two weeks ago. 

Taylor has reflected on a "mix of emotions" after narrowly missing out on being champions.

Speaking to BBC Sport after the game, he said: "I feel really proud of the team's performance. The mad thing is we could have maybe scored double figures today quite easily. That's the difference.

"To win 18 games in the season and still come up short is not easy but we have. It's been a big push from the team, we've worked incredibly hard, and we'll come back fighting."

When asked what lessons City can take from this season, Taylor added: "We need to improve in all areas. We have to have potentially better options from the sidelines. I think that's really key.

"I'm so enthusiastic about the way we played today. A lot of the stuff we did was really good. That's what inspires me to get up in the morning and fight for next season's title."

Goalkeeper Khiara Keating became the youngest-ever Golden Glove winner in her breakout season, as the 19-year-old kept nine clean sheets in 22 league games and conceded just 15 goals in total.

While disappointed about Saturday’s outcome, Keating looked back on the highlights of her season.

She said: "Obviously we are disappointed. We wanted to go out and win a trophy today. We knew what we had to do, and we didn't quite get it done.

"Hopefully next season in the Champions League we can show what we're about and go and win some trophies.

"From a personal point of view, my breakout season had a lot to prove at the start of the season, everyone was kind of.. Not doubting but wondering what I'd be like. I hope I've shown everyone what I can do.

"Gaz [Taylor] put his faith in me to go and play how I play and that is what I needed to go out there and do what I did this season."

Mayra Ramirez turned in a stellar performance to propel Chelsea to the WSL title in Emma Hayes' final match in charge as the Blues thrashed Manchester United 6-0.

Earlier in May, Hayes – who is ending a 12-year stint in charge of the Blues to become the United States coach – had all but given up on claiming a fifth straight WSL crown.

Yet Chelsea's 8-0 victory over Bristol City two weeks ago, combined with Manchester City's defeat to Arsenal, opened the door, and after beating Tottenham in midweek, the Blues knew a win, while maintaining their positive goal difference, would be enough.

And they made sure there was no room for error with an incredible first-half display inspired by Ramirez, who scored twice and set up goals for Johanna Rytting Kaneryd and Sjoeke Nusken at Old Trafford.

Melanie Leupolz got in on the act early in the second half as Chelsea's celebrations began in earnest, with Fran Kirby netting late on to complete the rout on her farewell appearance.

Ultimately, City – likely deflated by the news coming from Old Trafford – held up their end of the bargain, but shorn of top goalscorer Khadija Shaw, Gareth Taylor's team could only beat Aston Villa 2-1.

City were constantly chasing their title rivals, with Ramirez and Rytting Kaneryd putting Chelsea 2-0 up at United inside eight minutes.

Mary Fowler nudged City ahead at Villa Park, though when Taylor's team went in at the interval, they will have seen additional goals from record signing Ramirez and Nusken had all but sewn up the title for Chelsea already.

Leupolz has scored her first WSL goal in over two years to add further gloss for Chelsea when they came back out from the restart in Manchester, and City were then hit by a further blow when Rachel Daly equalised for Villa.

Lauren Hemp, who had assisted Fowler's opener, restored City's lead, though it was never going to be enough, with Kirby's farewell goal ensuring Chelsea finished with a goal difference of 53 compared to their rivals' 46.

Chelsea are now unbeaten across their last nine WSL games that have come on the final day of the season, while the Blues are now nine WSL matches without loss against United, having won eight of those fixtures.

The WSL title race could hardly be any closer heading into the final game of the season. Chelsea and Manchester City are locked together on 52 points apiece, with goal difference the only factor nudging the Blues ahead.

It is finely poised, and both sets of fans are in for a roller-coaster ride on Saturday.

Chelsea put themselves in pole position on Wednesday by winning their final game in hand, beating Tottenham 1-0. The Blues are now two goals ahead on goal difference ahead of facing Manchester United on Saturday. City, meanwhile, take on Aston Villa.

There could be the scenario that the teams finish level on both goal difference and goals scored. The determining metric would then be the number of league wins, followed by head-to-head record against their title rivals. In that scenario, Man City would be crowned Champions, having won away and drawn at home.

The Opta Supercomputer, though, has Chelsea in the driving seat on the final day with a 56.3 per cent chance of retaining their title.


City manager Garth Taylor, however, backed his team to prove the computer wrong.

"Well, I think we have a great chance. We're capable of going and scoring four," he said.

"We know we're capable. Does it mean obviously that you're able to go and do it at the weekend? Of course, because there are many factors that need to go into that. But yeah, I'll leave the data to the other guys.

"I think what we have to do is really concentrate on ourselves and make sure we don't take our eye off the ball. And like I say, start as impressively and as fast as we possibly can and see where that takes us. But you've seen with this team, they can score goals. 

"So it's just about constantly realigning them on the focus and what we need to do. Like I say, the more we've done that this season, the better we've been."

How many days have each of these teams led the way this term?

Chelsea lead the standings with an impressive 152. City have only managed 64 days at the top, and have spent much of their time chasing down the Blues.

Hayes' last hurrah

Emma Hayes will bid farewell to Chelsea and the WSL, and she is determined to go out in glorious fashion.

The last few weeks have been challenging for Hayes, with Chelsea losing to Arsenal in the League Cup final, going down to Barcelona in a controversial Champions League semi-final and then suffering a heavy defeat to Liverpool days later. Hayes had declared the title race "over" at that stage.

However, her players had other plans, and put themselves back in contention with an emphatic 8-0 win over relegated Bristol City to turn the goal difference in their favour, and followed that up by beating Spurs. City also handed them hope by losing 2-1 to Arsenal.

This last game will be an iconic goodbye, as the Blues travel to Old Trafford and face last season's challengers for the title, Man United. The fact that this match is at the men's stadium really does emphasise the huge growth the women's game has experienced in the 12 years Hayes has been in charge of Chelsea.

The United Way: Will FA Cup winners decide the title?

When Hayes started managing the Blues, United did not even have a professional women's side. United were promoted to the WSL after just one season following their establishment in 2018, and have not looked back.

Last season, it was the red side of Manchester running Hayes and her Chelsea side to the wire for the title race. This season, United created history by winning their first ever major trophy by beating Spurs 4-0 at Wembley.

United now have the fate of the title partly in their hands, though it would mean possibly gifting the crown to their rivals City.

United have won three of their four WSL games on the final day of the season, including the curtailed 2019-20 season, though that sole loss came in a 4-2 defeat to Chelsea in May 2022.

The Blues will also feel confident having got the better of Man Utd of late, unbeaten in their last eight WSL matches (W7 D1 L0).

Chelsea have scored the most goals in the WSL this season (65), six more than Man City (59), at an average of 3.0 per match, while also having the best xG (55.9) in the division.

United are looking for their first league win against Chelsea since November 2019. They have been outscored 21-7 during this streak.

Chelsea have lost just one of their last 11 away league matches played on a Saturday (W9 D1 L1), winning all of their last four on the road on this day while keeping a clean sheet in all of those victories and scoring 20 goals in the process.

United trio Mary Earps, Maya Le Tissier and Katie Zelem have played every minute of their WSL campaign this season, with City in 2019-20 the last team to have three players play 100 per cent of their total minutes in a WSL campaign (Caroline Weir, Gemma Bonner and Steph Houghton).

Zelem has created 55 chances for her team-mates, the most of any player in the competition, as well as playing 198 passes into the box, also a league-high.

Fran Kirby will pull on a Cheslea shirt for one final time. She has the most direct goal contributions 89 under Hayes in the WSL.

With 33, Kirby has also provided the most WSL assists in Hayes' tenure. She has also created the second-most chances (227), behind Ji So-Yun (228). One final crown would mark the end of an iconic stint at her time with Chelsea.

If Chelsea can get in front, they will be confident of the victory, the team have dropped a league-low three points from winning positions this season. 

City always the bridesmaid, never the bride?

City are hoping to end an eight-year wait to lift their second WSL title. In that time City have been runners up on five separate occasions.

Last time out, City suffered a 2-1 defeat against Arsenal at Joie Stadium, handing the momentum back to Chelsea in what has been an enthralling title race. This defeat snapped a 14-match winning streak and was a blow in what has been a record-breaking season.

City are unbeaten on the final day of the season across each of the last four WSL campaigns (W3 D1 – including curtailed 2019-20 season), winning each of the last three in succession.

Meanwhile, no team has had as many shots on target as City (171), who are one ahead of Chelsea's tally of 170.

Lauren Hemp has scored five goals in six prior WSL meetings with Aston Villa, including netting a brace in the reverse fixture earlier this season. She has also recorded seven assists so far in the league this season, the most of any player in the competition.

City will be without leading scorer Khadija Shaw, but they have been imperious at the back.

They have the best defence in the league in terms of goals against, having conceded only 14 times in 21 matches. However, their xGA of 18.8 is actually second-best, ranking behind Arsenal (17.7)

The star of the City defence has been shot-stopper extraordinaire Khiara Keating, in her first full season as City number one. Even ahead of the final game, the 19-year-old has been named the Golden Glove winner with nine clean sheets, beating England's number one Earps (seven).

Keating is the youngest goalkeeper ever to bag the award. Villa will present a stern test, having opened the scoring in each of their last three WSL home games, but they have failed to win any of them (D2 L1); in fact, the Villans have failed to win six of the seven home league games theyve taken a 1-0 lead in this season (W1 D3 L3).

However it plays out, one thing is for sure - Saturday will be filled with drama, tension and goals.

As these two heavyweights go toe to toe, history will be made. Either a fifth consecutive crown for Hayes as she bows out, or for the first time in many years, Chelsea could end a campaign with no silverware. 

Jamaica’s Khadija “Bunny” Shaw could cop March's Barclays Women's Super League Goal-of-the-Month award, as well as Manchester City Women’s Player-of-the-Month award after being shortlisted for both following her exploits throughout last month.

Shaw registered the historic achievement of being the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer when she overtook Georgia Stanway’s mark of 67. During that period, the prolific Jamaican had goals against Everton, Brighton and Hove Albion, Manchester United and Liverpool.

The towering 27-year-old striker now has 70 career goals for the north England powerhouse, which she joined three years ago, and 19 so far this season.

City’s manager Gareth Taylor in a recent interview, heaped praises on Shaw for her record-breaking feat.

“She’s a unique player, not only does she give us the goals, but she’s also a big focal point,” he said.

Shaw, City’s Player-of-the-Year for last season, faces stiff competition for the March award from midfielder Jess Park, who has also been shortlisted for the Barclays Women's Super League Goal-of-the-Month award.

Both players were nominated for finishes in the 4-1 victory at Liverpool last weekend.

Park’s goal, City’s second, came as she danced through a compact Liverpool defence and tucked calmly into the corner.

Shaw’s unstoppable strike from range came just two minutes later and had City 3-0 up in 24 minutes.

After four wins from four across the month, City are top of the table on 46 points having played a game more than defending champions Chelsea, who are on 43 points.

To win the award, Park or Shaw will have to see off six other strikes.

On the list are Hanna Bennison of Everton, Bristol City’s Megan Connolly, West Ham’s Viviane Asseyi, Lee Geum-min and Elisabeth Terland of Brighton and Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert.

Aston Villa boss Carla Ward said a manager should be sacked for having a relationship with a player, calling it a “complete abuse of power”.

Ward said it is the responsibility of managers to protect players and said “to cross that line is unacceptable and it can’t happen.”

The former Sheffield United and Birmingham City boss said: “It makes me very angry because we are here to set an environment and a comfortable place to work that the players feel safe, backed and looked after, so I just don’t understand anyone that crosses that line. You can’t do it. It is a complete abuse of power.

“We are in a moment where there is a microscope on the women’s game and people have taken advantage of certain positions, and I don’t like that and I don’t think it is right.”

Asked if a player-coach relationship should be a sackable offence, Ward replied: “Yes. One hundred per cent.”

The 40-year-old, who represented the likes of Sheffield United, Lincoln and Bristol Rovers during her playing days, said the possible grey area of a player-coach relationship – given it is not illegal, providing no minors are involved – should be addressed in contracts.

She added: “It is an unwritten rule, and I am sure teachers don’t have it in their contracts. But given where we are at now, and people don’t understand it, maybe put it in black and white so it is clear.”

Ward also said that players feel unable to report a potential issue.

“It is the biggest problem because if you are the manager and you are crossing that line, it is very difficult for anyone to report it,” added Ward.

“Say, you have got a director of football, and they have done wrong, or are doing wrong, and you know that, and a head coach or manager does it, you can’t go to that person because the first thing they will do is rip up your contract. I saw this as a player a lot.

“You hear things all the time and it infuriates me. The only way to clean up the game is to highlight it and get rid of it.”

Aston Villa forward Rachel Daly has been handed a three-match suspension after admitting a charge of violent conduct, the Football Association has announced.

The England international appeared to catch Bristol City midfielder Amy Rodgers in the face with her arm late in the first half of Villa’s 2-2 Women’s Super League draw with the Robins at the Poundland Bescot Stadium on Saturday.

A statement from the FA said: “Rachel Daly has been suspended for three matches following Aston Villa Women’s game against Bristol City Women in the Women’s Super League on Saturday February 3.

“Her behaviour during the 39th minute wasn’t seen by the match officials at the time, but it was caught on camera, and the FA alleged that it constitutes violent conduct.

“Rachel Daly subsequently admitted this charge and accepted the automatic penalty for violent conduct.”

The ban rules Daly out of Villa’s League Cup quarter-final against Brighton on Wednesday, plus WSL meetings with Tottenham and Liverpool.

The 32-year-old was the WSL Golden Boot winner with 22 goals for Villa last term, and has netted six times in the league – 14 in all competitions – for the club so far in the 2023-24 campaign.

Chelsea broke the Women’s Super League transfer record even as their men’s team sat out the January window.

While Premier League spending was down across the board to a combined £100m over the month, compared to last year’s record £815m as estimated by finance company Deloitte, an increasingly active WSL market peaked with the Blues’ move for Colombia forward Mayra Ramirez.

An initial 450,000 euros (£384,000), as stated by selling club Levante, is the English top flight’s highest ever fee – with add-ons worth 50,000 euros (£42,600) making it a potential world record in the women’s game.

Ramirez was recruited to cover for Sam Kerr’s expected season-long ACL absence while Manchester City replaced the similarly injured Jill Roord with Aston Villa’s Laura Blindkilde Brown.

With WSL sides increasingly following the lead of the men’s game in turning to the transfer market in response to injuries, Calum Ross, assistant director in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, told the PA news agency: “Player trading is a key part of any club’s business model, whether that’s in the women’s game or the men’s game.

“Obviously at the moment the values that we’re looking at are a lot more modest in the women’s game but we’d expect to see that growing in line with revenue.

“They’re all positive changes for the women’s game and it’s exciting to see that, and hopefully it does deliver the growth that it really deserves and is capable of.”

After lavish spending in recent windows, Chelsea were one of five men’s Premier League sides not to make a single January addition along with Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United.

The slowdown has been attributed to the threat of sanctions under the league’s profit and sustainability rules, with the Toffees already docked 10 points this season – though spending over the full season still hit £2.4bn, second only to last season’s £2.7bn.

Ross said: “I think compliance with financial regulations is a key part of it.

“We’ve obviously seen the Premier League’s response to breaches of their regulations, which is heightening clubs’ awareness to comply, and it’s the first year of UEFA’s new squad cost rules for clubs participating in UEFA competitions.

“There’s other reasons as well. In the summer we saw transfers like (Jude) Bellingham, (Declan) Rice, (Harry) Kane, which then create that domino effect across the market. We’re probably seeing a moment to pause and reset after they’ve done a lot of that business in the summer.”

Only £30m was spent on deadline day on permanent moves into the Premier League, the majority of that money heading into the Sky Bet Championship as Crystal Palace signed Adam Wharton from Blackburn and Aston Villa brought in Middlesbrough’s Morgan Rogers. Radu Dragusin’s move to Tottenham for a reported £26.7m on January 11 remained the biggest of the month.

For the first time since the Chinese Super League boom of 2019, the Premier League was not the biggest global spender as Ligue 1 clubs in France splashed out 190m euros (£162m) and Brazil’s Serie A over £123m.

The Saudi Pro League was not in that bracket, spending barely £20m after its headline-making summer splurge had echoed that previously seen in China.

Jordan Henderson returned to Europe with Ajax after six months at Al-Ettifaq and other high-profile signings expressed discontent, but Ross said: “I don’t think the bubble’s starting to burst. I think it’s a similar story (to the Premier League) – they’ve invested heavily in the summer and there’s an opportunity in this window to reflect and reset.

“I certainly expect to see them back in the market in the summer, whether that’s to the same levels that we saw this summer is to be seen. It does seem there are strong business plans behind the Saudi Pro League but there obviously is a need for them to prioritise financial sustainability over the long term.”

Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw continues to enjoy an outstanding individual campaign for Manchester City, and, as such, will end the year atop the Barclays Women’s Super League (WSL) scorers list.

The towering Jamaican striker has so far tallied 21 goals in a mere 10 games played so far in the 2023/24 season, and her feat has positioned Manchester City in second on 22 points, three behind leaders Chelsea.

Shaw’s rich vein of form puts her ahead of Aston Villa’s Rachel Daly (18), Bethany England (12) of Tottenham Hotspur, and Brighton Hove and Albion’s Elisabeth Terland (12) in the race for the Golden Boot, heading into the New Year.

The colourful exploits of the 26-year-old Reggae Girl should come as no surprise, as she merely picked up where she left off last season when she broke new ground by notching 31 goals in all competitions, a record across a single campaign for City’s women’s team.

During that season, Shaw was named Women’s Player of the Season in a fan vote, while she was also shortlisted for the Barclays Women’s Super League’s equivalent award.

Shaw finished the 2022/23 season with an astonishing 31 goals in all competitions, surpassing Nikita Parris’ previous highest total of 25 for a Women’s player across a single season. She achieved that tally in just 30 matches, meaning she found the net at a rate greater than once per game. 

When you add nine assists onto that total, her overall goal involvements for that campaign stand at an incredible 40. 

Shaw scored 20 of those goals in the WSL, two in as many UEFA Women’s Champions League matches, two in two Continental Cup fixtures, and an astonishing seven in three FA Cup appearances. 

And by all indications, there will be much more records and scoring feats to come for both Shaw and Manchester City, as her impressive journey will continue at the club until at least 2026.

Rachel Daly and Sam Kerr have both been named among the favourites to win the Golden Boot for the upcoming Women's Super League season.

Aston Villa's Daly is the current holder of the trophy having led the league with 22 goals last campaign, the joint-most recorded in a single season in competition history.

Kerr, meanwhile, has finished as the division's top scorer on two occasions, one of only two players to do so, winning the Golden Boot in back-to-back seasons in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns with Chelsea.

Ahead of the new season, which gets under way next weekend, a number of Women's Super League players and coaches pointed to Daly and Kerr as the frontrunners to lead the division in scoring.

When asked who will win the Golden Boot, Daly's Villa team-mate Mayumi Pacheco told Stats Perform: "I would love to say Rach Daly, of course.

"I think she had an unbelievable season last year and I think it's going to be tough to replicate, but I know she's got it in her."

Manchester City's Jess Park described Daly as an "unbelievable player" and lauded her "brilliant finishing attributes", while Brighton's Katie Robinson labelled the former West Ham loanee as a "prolific goalscorer".

Daly's manager, Carla Ward, added: "She’s one of a kind, she’s like a kid that just wants to play football. 

"It doesn't matter where you put her on the pitch, she’s happy. She wants to score goals, she’s hungry, she wants success, she wants to be better every day."

Kerr netted 12 goals in 21 outings last season as she helped Chelsea claim a third straight Women's Super League title.

Her Blues team-mate Johanna Rytting Kaneryd is backing her to reclaim the Golden Boot, telling Stats Perform: "For me, it's so easy to play with her. She's unreal in the box.

"Even though it does matter how you cross the ball, it feels like she's always there. She has unbelievable timing and ability to score."

Mary Fowler played with Kerr for Australia as they valiantly battled to the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup on home soil, and is excited to see how her compatriot fares.

"You just can't help but admire some of the things that she does," Fowler said.

"It's just like you wouldn't think of doing that yourself. I'm just excited to see what she does this season."

Jordan Nobbs has been backed to "cement her place" in the England team after ending a 12-year Arsenal career by making a surprise move to Aston Villa.

The 69-cap midfielder is a former Lionesses vice-captain whose career has been hit by knee and ankle injuries in recent seasons.

The switch to Women's Super League rivals Villa, announced on Thursday, gives Nobbs a fresh start as she seeks regular club football.

Nobbs was recalled by Sarina Wiegman to the England squad after missing the Euro 2022 win through injury, and the 30-year-old has now signed an 18-month deal with Villa, hoping it will be the springboard to a key role with the Lionesses at the 2023 World Cup.

Daughter of former Hartlepool defender Keith Nobbs, Nobbs joined Arsenal from Sunderland in August 2010 and won WSL titles in 2011, 2012 and 2019 with the Gunners, also winning the Women's FA Cup four times.

She hit 81 goals in 270 games for Arsenal, the north London club said.

Villa manager Carla Ward said: "This is a big signing for us and Jordan is one of the country's most decorated footballers. She's a winner and will bring a wealth of experience that her new team-mates will thrive off."

Ward told Villa's website: "We're delighted to secure her signature and we hope this move can help the football club as well as cement her place back in the international set-up."

Arsenal sporting director Edu described Nobbs as "a wonderful servant" to the club who had "written her name into the Arsenal history books".

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