Manchester City could become Women’s Super League champions for the first time since 2016 if they can overcome Arsenal on Sunday at the Joie Stadium. 

However, results would need to go their way for this to happen and Chelsea, who meet Bristol City in the late kick off, will have to lose or draw for City to be crowned champions this weekend.

Arsenal, who have already secured a Champions League qualification spot, will want to spoil City's party with a victory that would take a tight title race right to the final game of the season. 

The Gunners have been formidable this season against top opposition and they have won more points in games involving the top three teams in the WSL this season (6 points) than both Man City and Chelsea (4 points each).

Recent history between the two sides shows City will need to muster a performance worthy of champions to beat an Arsenal side who already have silverware to their name this season. Beating Chelsea in the League Cup in Emma Hayes’ last season is a feat they want to replicate against City. 

Arsenal have won their last two games against City in the WSL by a 2-1 scoreline and could become just the second team to win three in a row versus the Citizens in the competition after Chelsea, who did so between November 2021 and September 2022.

Gareth's Taylor's squad, however, shows no signs of letting up this season, with their consistency worthy of a championship-winning season. 

Man City have won 14 straight league matches this season, with last week's 4-0 win at Bristol City moving them a step closer to the title. Arsenal, meanwhile, have won four, drawn one and lost one in their last six. 

Hosts City have been almost flawless in front of their own fans this season with eight wins, one draw, and just one loss in 10 home Women's Super League contests.

City are hoping to extend a seven-match home winning streak dating back to November 2023, when an emphatic 7-0 win over Tottenham started this streak.

In league matches away from home this season, Arsenal have earned 17 points from 30 available (W5 D2 L3), so some would consider this the main reason they find themselves out of the title race at this stage. 

They have recorded just two clean sheets on the road this season, their worst such total in a single campaign since 2014 (also 2).

A Blue Wall for City 

A steadfast defence has made City almost impossible to beat, as they have not conceded more than once in any of their last 15 WSL games since a 2-1 away loss to Arsenal in November 2023. The last team to concede multiple goals in one or fewer matches across a single campaign were Chelsea in 2019-20 (once).

Khiara Keating has had a superb season in goal for City, keeping nine clean sheets in 20 appearances and conceding just 10 times.

Keating has faced 18.6 expected goals on target (xGOT), giving her a stunning goals prevented figure of 8.6 – she has kept out over eight more goals than would have been anticipated based on the quality of her shot-stopping – while she has a mightily impressive 81.8 save percentage.

In comparison, Arsenal’s goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger has struggled for form this term and conceded 16 goals from an xGOT of 14.9, giving her a goals prevented value of -1.1. Essentially, she has conceded one goal more than would have been anticipated based on the quality of chances she has faced.
Zinsberger has recorded five clean sheets, with a save percentage of 65.2 way down on the number of Keating – statistics that prove the importance of an elite goalkeeper if a team is to challenge for the title. 

Attack is the best form of defence and City, who knew goal difference could be the difference between themselves and Chelsea this season, have been ruthless in front of goal. 

However, they will have to see out the crucial last two games without the injured Khadija Shaw, who despite being ruled out for the rest of the season still looks nailed on to win the golden boot race with 21 goals for the season.

The Jamaican has greatly exceeded her 12.3 xG and has proven herself as one of the best strikers to play in the league's history.

Ones to Watch

Having scored four goals against Arsenal, Lauren Hemp has only netted more often in the competition versus Aston Villa and Everton (5 each); only two current WSL players have scored more times in the competition versus the Gunners: Toni Duggan (7) and Rachel Williams (6).

Behind Shaw, Hemp is City’s next top scorer, with nine goals from 19 games. Those goals have come from an xG of 5.1, proving Hemp’s finishing ability. Indeed, only Shaw (24) has more goal contributions for City this season than Hemp (16), who has also provided seven assists.

It is Chloe Kelly who leads the way for City when it comes to chances created, with 45 – six more than Hemp’s tally (39). 

Kelly has now recorded both five goals and five assists for the second WSL season running (5 + 5 in 2023-24, 5 + 9 in 2022-23); since her first season in the competition for Manchester City in 2020-21 the Englishwoman has recorded more WSL assists than any other player (28).

Arsenal's signing of Alessia Russo at the start of the season seems to have paid off in her goal return. Russo has netted on 10 occasions, including three match-opening goals. 

The attacker ranks fourth among the league's top scorers and has had 71 shots, more than any other player in Arsenal’s squad this season.

She has scored in each of her last three WSL appearances and, having never previously netted in four straight in the competition, now has the chance to set a personal record. The Arsenal forward has also now matched her goal return from last season at Manchester United by reaching double figures. 

Despite being injured at the start of the season, Beth Mead has had another excellent campaign, directly contributing to 11 goals (eight goals, three assists).

The Gunners midfield will be looking to dominate the game. Victoria Pelova, in her first full season for Arsenal, has been the heart of the midfield with Kim Little. When it comes to assists, Pelova leads the way for Arsenal with five, having created 26 goalscoring opportunities for her team-mates.
But all eyes will be on Manchester City, who have won each of their last 14 WSL games, the joint-longest winning streak in the competition’s history alongside Arsenal’s run of 14 victories between March and November 2022. 

Man City know a 15th win would not only break that record, but also put them on the brink of glory – they have the opportunity to become champions in their own hands and Taylor’s side are close to wrapping up a historic season. 

Manchester City boss Gareth Taylor has expressed his confidence that Chloe Kelly will stay with the club following speculation about her future.

The Daily Mail this week reported that Paris St Germain want to sign England winger Kelly, whose current City deal runs to 2025, this summer.

Taylor told a press conference on Friday: “I’m really confident (Kelly will remain a City player).

“But at the end of the day these things happen, when players are doing well you get these rumours that come out. How true they are, I’m not too sure, how much propaganda’s involved.

“But we try to just normalise things and make sure the players keep their feet on the floor.

“We’re doing well at the moment, we’re on a really good run of form, but we have to continue in that same vein, we have to keep pushing to improve and Chloe is one of those players.

“Yes, she’s playing well at the moment, but there’s a lot to come from her I feel and with Chloe you have a really good personality to work with and someone who is hungry to learn.”

Kelly, famously scorer of England’s extra-time winner in the Euro 2022 final against Germany at Wembley, has netted eight times in all competitions this season for City – who have won their last seven Women’s Super League games and are second in the table.

Asked how important for the team’s development it was that players like Kelly and fellow Lionesses forward Lauren Hemp stay with City, Taylor said: “Of course, it’s massive and we’re working so hard, like all of the other teams will be, to retain their best players.

“But at the end of the day it’s a free world and if players are not excited about what we’re doing, or players at other clubs are not excited about what they’re doing, of course that’s when their heads can get turned a little bit.

“We have our levels we’ll go to, we have our way of working that I think is great and one of the reasons why these players are being talked about.

“For us it’s about coming to an agreement that suits everyone, which I think is really important, and life goes on.

“If players leave, which we’ve seen has happened to us, has happened to other teams, life goes on, we continue in the same vein.

“Of course we want people who are committed to being here at the club. We have that at this moment in time.

“With Lauren, there’s been a bit of speculation, but I think her performances have been top class, she’s been amazing.”

Taylor was speaking ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round trip to Arsenal.

What the papers say

England forward Chloe Kelly is wanted by Paris St-Germain. The Daily Mail reports the 26-year-old would become the highest-paid women’s player in Europe if she makes the move from Manchester City.

Christian Eriksen, 31, could make a return to Brentford in the summer, according to the Metro. Galatasaray have also been linked with a move for Manchester United’s Denmark midfielder.

Brighton are leading the race for Ghanaian winger Ibrahim Osman. The Evening Standard says the Seagulls close to beating West Ham to the 19-year-old’s signature from Nordsjaelland in a £17million deal, while the Daily Mail says the move has already been agreed.

Jon Dahl Tomasson is close to being the next managerial casualty. The Daily Mail reports he is set to leave Blackburn Rovers after eight games without a win in the Championship.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Antonee Robinson: Liverpool are looking at a summer mover for the Fulham and the United States left-back, according to Football Insider,

Ivan Toney: Manchester United are ahead of Arsenal in the race to sign the England striker from Brentford, according to Teamtalk.

Chloe Kelly and Nikita Parris have backed their England team-mates to recover from the gut-wrenching disappointment of missing out on a chance of featuring at the Olympic Games in 2024.

The Lionesses lifted the Euro 2022 trophy and reached the final of the Women's World Cup a year later, but there was no fairytale ending to their Women's Nations League story.

Sarina Wiegman's European champions hammered Scotland 6-0 in their last fixture in Group A1 this month, but the Netherlands' 4-0 win over Belgium saw them top the standings.

Had Olympic qualification been determined by World Cup placings, Team GB would have qualified thanks to their nominated representative England making the final, losing 1-0 to Spain.

However, the new Nations League competition dictates who will travel to Paris next year and Germany, Spain and the Netherlands will now battle for two of three spots alongside hosts France.

Manchester City star Kelly, speaking at the launch of the first ever Panini Barclays Women's Super League sticker collection at the National Football Museum, said: "I think it is the way we bounce back from those losses, I think we can learn a lot from the whole duration of that Nations League.

"Being more consistent throughout the tournament because we left it to the last two games and we cut ourselves short.

"We are a great side and it is about getting some rest now, recovering and going again."

While there will be no Olympic dream for Wiegman and her England players, another European Championship campaign will follow in Switzerland in 2025.

Owing to the difficult task of qualifying for the Games, Parris echoed Kelly's message as she insisted the Lionesses will come back stronger.

Parris added: "It was a disappointment, fine margins, especially when in the Nations League, top teams are playing against each other.

"You do want that competition and it's such a hard route to go to the Olympics for the European sides, but for sure the girls will be super disappointed about the results and not going to the Olympics in 2024.

"The bounce back will be very quick, however. The focus will then go to the Euros and I'm sure everyone is raring and ready to go for the next games."

Former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis acknowledged the Lionesses' "failure" but assured Wiegman will use the experience as a learning curve.

Brown-Finnis said: "It's an unusual one, not qualifying for the Olympics, it comes off the back of a Covid-postponed European Championships.

"Obviously we went on and won that one on home soil, so it's a congested fixture period and I'm not making excuses for the failure because all those players desperately wanted to be at the Olympics.

"It's what every national team in women's football aspires to do, to play in their continental championships, the World Cup and the Olympics, one year off and repeat.

"So it's a failure, absolutely, but it didn't happen on the last day against Scotland, it happened in the previous games.

"They'll come back, they'll have the summer off, which I think will definitely be a benefit, and Sarina Weigman, she'll learn from it, she'll learn what her players need.

"She's only two years into her tenure and what a success… she has been unbelievable, so I hope she sticks around for a long time and brings more success to the Lionesses."

The Women's Super League and Chelsea Women will be beneficiaries of the legacy Emma Hayes leaves behind when she heads for a new challenge in the United States.

That was the message from Chloe Kelly, Nikita Parris and Rachel Brown-Finnis as the trio looked ahead to Chelsea boss Hayes leaving Stamford Bridge for the USA Women's head coach role.

Hayes is regarded by many in women's football as one of the most influential people in the game and has been in charge of the London club since 2012.

Hayes' departure date is confirmed for May, when she travels to the USA to take over after their underwhelming 2023 Women's World Cup campaign, and Kelly was quick to credit the Chelsea boss for her work with the Blues.

Speaking at the launch of the first ever Panini Barclays Women's Super League sticker collection at the National Football Museum, Kelly said: "I think throughout the years she's been so consistent at Chelsea and playing great football, I think it's exciting for her.

"It's a new chapter of her career and I wish her all the best in that, but of course it's a loss to the WSL, it's the top manager that we're losing, but hopefully she goes and achieves great things.

Hayes has led Chelsea to six WSL titles, five Women’s FA Cups, two Continental Cups, the Spring Series, a Community Shield victory and a Champions League final.

Parris echoed England team-mate Kelly's sentiments, adding: "She has proven over many years how much of a fantastic coach she is and she will be a massive loss to the league.

"Chelsea winning the WSL back to back to back, that's some feat and she deserves all the credit that she gets.

"I wish her all the best in the future, especially when she's not playing against England but I wish her the best for the US."

Hayes' new role will make her the world's highest‑paid female coach, although there will be heavy expectations placed upon her when she crosses the Atlantic.

Hayes' first major tournament as USA boss will be the Olympics next year in Paris, with Twila Kilgore acting as interim head coach until May, becoming her assistant when she arrives.

Brown-Finnis believes the legacy Hayes will leave in the WSL and at Chelsea will be clear for all to see, saying women's football will benefit from her influence going forward.

"Emma Hayes is arguably, in the 12 years she's been at Chelsea, the biggest proprietor of change," Brown-Finnis said at the same event as Parris and Kelly.

"That's in her coaching methods, in the success that she's bred, the infrastructure that she's implemented at the club, the conversations that she's had with the hierarchy at Chelsea.

"She has made demands to ensure that change happens from a resources point of view, in the way that people think about women's football at the club and beyond.

"They are now the blueprint that other WSL clubs, not just WSL clubs, but domestic clubs all around the world are looking at... how they conduct themselves, how they interact, how they work as one body and that for me has been the biggest and most solid change.

"In years gone by, a club's gone down from the Premier League and the first thing to have been axed has been the women's club. That is history, thankfully.

"Emma Hayes has been and still is moving things forward, happy to stand toe-to-toe in arguments and debates around football, a subject that she knows as well as any professional coach in the game, male or female, and she's a wonderful ambassador and a wonderful pioneer.

"She'll be a big loss to the Women's Super League, but I hope eventually she'll be back in England, possibly leading England to World Cup glory."

Mary Earps has nothing to apologise for after her error against the Netherlands contributed to England's early exit from the Women's Nations League, says former Lionesses goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis.

England entered December's international window battling the Netherlands to top Group A1, needing to do so to keep Team GB's chances of reaching the 2024 Olympic Games alive.

Though the Lionesses beat the Oranje 3-2 on December 1, that result failed to put them in control of their own destiny, with a visibly upset Earps saying she had "let the team down" after allowing Lineth Beerensteyn's shot to squirm in at her near post.

Though England routed Scotland 6-0 in their final group game, that result was not enough as the Netherlands beat Belgium 4-0 with Damaris Egurrola scoring two stoppage-time goals.

That meant they edged out Sarina Wiegman's team by a single goal on the goal difference tiebreaker, preserving their own hopes of participating in Paris.

Though Earps' error eventually proved costly, Brown-Finnis says her performances throughout England's triumphant Euro 2022 campaign – as well as their run to this year's World Cup final – more than make up for it. 

Speaking at the launch of the first ever Panini Barclays Women's Super League sticker collection at the National Football Museum, Brown-Finnis said: "I think she'll learn from that. 

"You have an emotional reaction after the game and it's hard to keep that under wraps, whether that's good or whether that's a negative emotional reaction or an angry reaction.

"I think she'll learn that she was not to blame. She knows she made a mistake and she owned that mistake and she wanted to outwardly acknowledge that.

"I understand the sentiment behind [Earps apologising], but the amount of credit she has in the bank for her performances in the World Cup and the European Championships, since she's had that number one shirt on her back…

"She is the world's best goalkeeper. She's England's number one and she has nothing to be sorry for."

Earps enjoyed a stellar campaign as England finished as World Cup runners-up in August, winning the Golden Glove and saving a penalty in their 1-0 final defeat to Spain.

She won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award earlier this month, seeing off competition from cricketer Stuart Broad and golf star Rory McIlroy.

Speaking alongside Brown-Finnis, Earps' England team-mate Chloe Kelly said: "Mary's unbelievable, a great personality, a great girl and unbelievable on the pitch.

"She's achieving great things at the minute, and it's all due to her hard work, her determination. Credit to her."

Manchester United forward Nikita Parris, who plays alongside Earps for both club and country, added: "She's massively important. 

"Great team-mate, great player. She's had an unbelievable couple of years and she deserves all the awards she's up for. 

"Don't forget BBC Sports Personality – that's a massive achievement, something that in England, we all love to watch. I really wish her the best."

Chloe Kelly believes the record attendances in the Women's Super League (WSL) this season are down to the standard of football that is being played.

The attendance record for a single WSL game has been beaten twice this season, while the average number of spectators inside the grounds are also growing across the division.

Kelly Simmons, the FA director of the women's professional game, pointed to England Women's victory at Euro 2022 as the key reason for the rise in attendances.

Manchester City Women's Kelly, who scored the winning goal in the final of Euro 2022 against Germany, credited the increase in standard as spearheading the rise of women's football.

Speaking at the launch of the first ever Panini Barclays Women's Super League sticker collection at the National Football Museum, Kelly said: "[It is] definitely the football that the girls are playing.

"I think every club this season has shown exactly what they're about and I think to hit record attendance just shows the work that we're doing on the pitch but away from the pitch as well.

"I think we're showing great personalities and we want as many people to come and watch us and it's about what we do on the pitch that brings them to the stadiums."

Manchester United Women's Nikita Parris was also part of the Euro 2022 success, and she agrees with Kelly that the level of play is the main attraction for fans.

Parris highlighted the recent 4-1 victory for Arsenal Women over Chelsea Women, which broke the record for attendance at a WSL match with its crowd of 59,042, as an example of the high calibre of play.

When asked what she thought the key reason for the increased attendance was, Parris replied: "I think ultimately the standard of quality in the game.

"You've seen the game against Arsenal and Chelsea, a great spectacle, quality on both sides and goals. Goals bring spectators, goals bring games and the more goals you score in the game definitely the more exciting it is."

Rachel Brown-Finnis, now a pundit after a long playing career, is delighted with the growth in the women's game and is hoping its rapid rise continues, explaining: "Where the women's game is now, it's unprecedented.

"We're successful, we've won the European Championships, we've got to the final of the World Cup, we're seeing crowds that we've never ever seen before.

"People want to attend domestic games, people clearly want to attend Lionesses' matches which is why most of them are hosted at Wembley, and sell-out Wembley's. That's on an upward trajectory, that I don't see anything really dipping that."

Chloe Kelly believes it's still all to play for in the Women's Super League title race, warning Manchester City's rivals: "It's not how you start the season, it's how you end it."

City went into the mid-season winter break three points adrift of reigning champions Chelsea, ahead of third-placed Arsenal by virtue of their superior goal difference.

Gareth Taylor's team suffered back-to-back defeats at the start of November as they went down to Arsenal and Brighton, but they have since responded with a four-game winning streak, which includes a 7-0 rout of Tottenham. 

Though Chelsea and Arsenal both boast experience of getting over the line, winning the last six WSL titles between them since City last triumphed in 2016, Kelly fancies their chances.

Speaking at the launch of the first ever Panini Barclays Women's Super League sticker collection at the National Football Museum, Kelly said: "It's been a great season so far. 

"I think it's very tight, both at the top and the bottom of the table. There's a lot to play for still. It was still really exciting coming up to Christmas, seeing what the table looks like, but we know there's still plenty of football to play.

"It'll definitely be a close one, it's all still to play for and I think it's about consistency throughout the season. 

"We need to make sure that us at City are doing just that and being consistent throughout the season. It's not how you start the season, it's how you end it."

Kelly, who famously scored England's winning goal in the Euro 2022 final against Germany at Wembley Stadium, also heaped praise on City boss Taylor, who has overseen league finishes of second, third and fourth in his three full campaigns at the helm.

"I think I've seen a lot of growth in myself since being at Manchester City, learning from a great manager in Gaz," Kelly said.

"I think from when I came to the club to where I am now, I can see massive growth. 

"I try to learn as much as I can and take a lot of information from him and the staff around him as well. We have Shaun Goater who works with the forwards, so the more information I can get off him, the better. 

"He was an unbelievable forward and I just try and learn as much as I can from the staff around me, and also the players."

England forward Chloe Kelly says women should never let anyone tell them they can't succeed, after Joey Barton sparked controversy with comments about female pundits working in football.

Speaking at the launch of the first ever Panini Barclays Women's Super League sticker collection at the National Football Museum, former Lionesses goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis joined Kelly to call for women to ignore Barton's 'clickbait' criticism.

Former Manchester City and Newcastle United midfielder Barton made headlines recently over a series of negative social media posts about women working in the men's game.

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Barton said women "shouldn't be talking with any kind of authority in the men's game", calling women's football a "different" sport and describing the decision to employ female pundits and commentators as "tokenism".

Chelsea Women's manager Emma Hayes and former Arsenal defender Alex Scott have both hit out at Barton's comments in recent days, and Kelly – the scorer of England's winning goal in the Euro 2022 final against Germany – has now joined them.

"We've broken down barriers throughout our careers, every woman involved in sport, especially in football," Kelly said. 

"We've broken down barriers to get where we are today, and we keep breaking down those barriers and not letting people tell us we can't. As you can see today, women can achieve great things.

"I definitely like to prove people wrong. I think every female has done just that along the way, proving people wrong. 

"I think we're showing exactly what we're capable of and every woman working in football is showing that they're able to do so."

Brown-Finnis, who has worked as a pundit on men's and women's football since retiring in 2015, suggested Barton's comments were primarily intended to cause outrage, rather than representing his honest views.

"It's one voice on social media that reaches a lot of people's ears and unfortunately, that's the nature of social media," she said of Barton's posts.

"We as women in football, whether it be women's football or men's football, we hear these voices on a regular basis. I think you can choose to listen to them or you can choose to not listen to them. 

"I understand that platform is for anybody to have their say. He's entitled to his view, if that is a true view, but in my opinion it's more of a clickbait exercise."

Former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis has described online racist abuse aimed at Chelsea's Lauren James as "disgusting", calling for action to be taken against the perpetrators.

Speaking at the launch of the first ever Panini Barclays Women's Super League sticker collection at the National Football Museum, Brown-Finnis was joined by current Lionesses forward Chloe Kelly, who pledged to support her international team-mate after she was abused on social media.

James was subjected to racist comments online after appearing to stamp on Lia Walti's foot during Chelsea's 4-1 Women's Super League defeat against Arsenal last week.

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes subsequently said James was "not in a good place" and claimed "racial profiling" by people working in football was partly to blame for the abuse.  

Brown-Finnis, who won 82 caps for England between 1997 and 2013 before moving into punditry, believes more must be done to hold those who post online abuse to account.

"Of course, it's not coming from within. People can say what they want on social media and there seems to be little ownership of comments, there seems to be no action taken against people who put what they want on social media," she said.

"It's awful, it's hurtful, it's not representative of what the majority of people think of women, of athletes, of people of colour, of any sort of minority group, and it's disgusting. 

"It's something that I would not want my children to see, would want to relate to, would want any part of, so with the fact that it's highlighted, hopefully something can be done about it."

James was also racially abused online while playing for Manchester United in 2021, while a recent FIFA study revealed one in five players at this year's Women's World Cup were subjected to "discriminatory, abusive or threatening messaging" during the tournament.

Kelly – who played alongside James in Australia and New Zealand as Sarina Wiegman's team finished as runners-up to Spain – said the forward's team-mates would now rally around her.

"I haven't seen anything about it, but it's really disappointing to hear," Kelly said of the abuse James has received.

"She's a great young talent, a great young English talent who is doing so well at the minute, but of course, there's so much negativity. I think it's always disappointing with such a talent like LJ. 

"Hopefully she's able to block that out and move forward. Everyone around her will definitely support her in this time because she's an unbelievable player and deserves a lot of support."

James was on target as Chelsea returned to winning ways in the Women's Super League on Sunday, netting the opener in a 3-0 victory over Bristol City.

England defender Esme Morgan has urged critics to empathise with players who have the desire, but no longer the capacity, to meet every autograph hopeful amid growing concern that a minority of fans feel overly entitled to their time.

Morgan’s fellow Lioness, Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps, this week posted on Instagram after she was tagged in a post-match comment by a parent who claimed the award-winner was “far too busy and important to stop for her fans these days”, admitting she found the accusation “hurtful” when she had taken time to meet as many as she could.

It is easy for Morgan, who was at the age of five already a Manchester City season-ticket holder, to put herself in the shoes of supporters hoping for a post-match meeting with an idol.

She has also witnessed popular team-mates like Chloe Kelly become upset after being unfairly criticised for not getting to everyone  – when the reason can sometimes be as straightforward as needing to board a bus.

Morgan said: “You can’t please everyone and you always remember that one person who wasn’t happy with you as opposed to all the people whose day you made and they were really grateful.

“We love being able to go over and make someone’s day and see how excited people get but with the growth of the game now it’s just not really realistic and feasible for us to get round and see everyone.

“It’s difficult when sometimes maybe some fans feel like the expectation is that they’re going to get to meet you and in years gone by that might have been an option, not as many fans were coming to the games so you might be able to get round everyone.

“It is really hard because I’m sure at that age I would have been disappointed and so gutted that I was so close to meeting one of my heroes, but the growth of the game now means there’s just so many more people interested and so many more people come to the games and want to meet people that it’s just not possible for us to get round it all.

“I think it’s nice that we can celebrate the interaction we have with fans but I think it’s difficult that, if it’s an expectation, players shouldn’t be made to feel bad about not getting round to everyone.”

Players like Morgan have embraced other means of interaction – she is fond of engaging with fans on her increasingly popular TikTok account and through charity initiatives – while new systems like the one being trialled at Manchester City’s Joie Stadium this season aim to facilitate smoother and more quality connections between players and fans.

‘Autograph Alley’ is a dedicated meet-and-greet point where a smaller group of randomly selected supporters enjoy post-match encounters with players, something which Morgan says “is a lot nicer for us actually because it’s a much calmer situation and atmosphere.”

She added: “You can spend a little bit more time chatting to people because not everyone is sort of screaming or going a bit crazy around you. Sometimes when you go around the edge of the crowd, you’re kind of getting screamed at and having things thrust in your face.”

Those still hoping to snag an England player’s signature would do well to take a cue from young Morgan herself. A little politeness, she said, goes a long way.

She added: “When I first started coming to City’s women’s matches I was just a kid in the crowd wanting to meet everyone. But I always felt like my manners were good and I’d always say please and thank you and things like that and sometimes I think that can be lost and that’s one of those things where it’s not a pleasant experience.

“I think if clubs can put something in place, like City have, making it a lot more well-managed and a calmer experience then I think it’s much more pleasant for everybody.”

Manchester City boss Gareth Taylor wants improved communication between players and officials following Sunday’s controversial draw with Chelsea in which he felt the referee handed out bookings “like confetti”.

City looked the brighter side and had taken a 1-0 lead via Chloe Kelly’s deflected seventh-minute strike, but late in the first half referee Emily Heaslip decided Alex Greenwood had been time-wasting after taking 26 seconds to take a free-kick and dismissed the bewildered captain with a second yellow.

It was an encounter with potential title implications that ultimately saw 10 yellows issued, including a second to Lauren Hemp 15 minutes before Guro Reiten’s stoppage-time equaliser, with the decision against Greenwood in particular lambasted on social media and criticised by big names including Ian Wright and Beth Mead.

Taylor, who himself was booked in the second half, said: “We submit a report which normally is fairly straightforward.

“I think this one will be quite an interesting one, just in terms of some of the feedback I’ve had from the players as well, in terms of the communication back and forth from the officials.

“Everyone makes mistakes. I think owning those mistakes at times is is much easier to handle, because we all do it, and I think it’s just a little bit easier if we get that communication between us, which is really important, so that we can create – not necessarily accountability – but we can create communication between us and go, we’re seeing it as this and you guys are seeing it slightly differently, who is right or wrong here? 

“It’s important we get the feedback. Let’s see what we hear back.”

City, who also unsuccessfully appealed a three-match ban for Leila Ouahabi, sent off in their season opener, next travel to Everton on Wednesday to kick off their FA Cup campaign, a competition Taylor insisted “is not something to be sniffed at”.

City are looking to qualify for Champions League football again after narrowly missing out with a fourth-place WSL finish last year, with success against top sides like Chelsea critical in the short 22-match season.

While Taylor suggested Sunday’s decisions “went against us, it always seems to be against us and not Chelsea”, he conceded the first yellow of the game, shown to Blues forward Lauren James, was “harsh, and the next thing you know, before you know it, they’re handing them out like confetti”.

He also brushed aside theories that his side were less disciplined than Hayes’, adding: “They always seem to talk around that their discipline is much higher, but I don’t think there was any ill discipline from us at all.

“It was a real anomaly of the game and it forced us into a really, really difficult situation which the players coped with so well.

“I’ve been so impressed with the players and the way they manage that.

“To put four points on the board in both of those games, when you lose players, has been amazing.”

England striker Chloe Kelly expects the women’s game to continue growing in the country despite the Lionesses’ World Cup final heartbreak.

The Manchester City forward, match-winner in the Euro 2022 final, this time experienced the heartbreak of defeat as England were beaten by Spain in Sydney last month.

But the 25-year-old looks on the tournament as a whole as a positive experience that is only likely to generate further interest in the sport.

She feels proof of that came on Thursday as City announced a new agreement with baby gear brand Joie to become the new naming rights partner of their Academy Stadium.

“It was a great summer, and a great summer for women’s football and England,” said Kelly.

“It’s great to be winning the Euros and then going on to a World Cup final. It’s great for the country and great for the women’s game.

“That success obviously brings deals like this to the women’s game, which is really important for the growth of the game. It is exciting and there is a lot to come still.”

Kelly has already put the disappointment of the World Cup final loss behind her as she focuses on pre-season training with City.

She said: “It’s good to get back in with the team, get back on the pitch, keep learning, find those relationships again and keep building on last season.

“Of course I’m not on top of my game as it’s still pre-season – I don’t want to peak too early – and it is really important we build as we go.

“Starting the season well is really important but I think as we go we need to get better. It’s important not starting where we need to be at the end of the season. We need to be consistent throughout.”

City begin their Women’s Super League campaign with a trip to West Ham on October 1.

After missing out on honours last term, and narrowly falling short of a Champions League spot, Kelly is determined for the team to make its mark.

She said: “We want to be winning trophies. It is really important for us to be doing that, and Champions League football – we need to be in it and we need to be pushing for that.”

Prior to the start of the WSL, Kelly will return to the international fold for Nations League games against Scotland and the Netherlands on September 22 and 26 respectively.

England manager Sarina Wiegman has expressed concern at the scheduling of the matches so soon after the end of the World Cup in Australia.

“It is important we recover well,” Kelly said. “We need to look after our bodies in these moments.”

:: Chloe Kelly was speaking at the official renaming event for the Joie Stadium. The Joie Stadium is the only purpose-built stadium in the Women’s Super League and the first to have a naming partner.

Chloe Kelly hailed England as a “special team” as she once again proved to be the match-winner by scoring the decisive penalty in a World Cup shoot-out win over Nigeria.

The European Champions were second best for much of their last-16 clash, with their chances of securing victory hampered by a late red card for Lauren James after a needless stamp on Michelle Alozie.

After a goalless 120 minutes, Georgia Stanway fired the first spot-kick of the shoot-out wide for England only for both Desire Oparanozie and Alozie to miss the target with their efforts.

With everyone else successful from the spot, it fell on Kelly to emphatically smash home the winning penalty, following on from her extra-time winner in the Euros final last summer and the decisive spot-kick in a shoot-out win over Brazil in the Finalissima in April.

“No, definitely not, it is the team,” she told BBC Sport when asked about once again being the match-winner.

“This team is special, we did it in the Euros, we did it in the Finalissima, we are here again tonight and doing it; we keep pushing forward and there is more to come form this special team.

“It is amazing, anything that is thrown at us, we show what we are capable of.

“We dig deep, we dig deep as a group, we believe in our ability; first and foremost we believe in what we are being told to do.”

Asked about what was going through her head as she walked up to take her penalty, the Manchester City forward replied: “For me, it is ‘I’m going to score’ – that is how I look at it, once I win that mental battle we are good.

“We have been practising (penalties) a lot actually and it has been working.”

Chloe Kelly is determined to approach the World Cup with the same carefree and fun-loving attitude she had as a child dreaming of playing on such a stage.

Just under a year on from scoring the goal at Wembley that clinched Euros glory for England, winger Kelly is in line to make her World Cup debut on Saturday when Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses open their campaign against Haiti in Brisbane.

The 25-year-old Manchester City star played cage football as a child growing up in west London, and she said: “You have to hold your own against the boys.

“I think that is great, having a little bit of personality to go in those cages and hold your own against players that probably didn’t respect you when you first walked in there. They definitely do as you leave.

“I think it is really important to have that personality that I try to bring on the pitch every day.

“I try to just be creative, free and just play with a smile on my face. I think that little girl is still inside me, the one that loves playing football.

“Being at such a huge tournament, that’s exactly what I am going there to do. I am going there as the little girl of Chloe Kelly that just loves playing football.

“There will be so many kids with that dream to play at a World Cup, and that’s all I think about. One day I was that little girl with this huge dream.”

The extra-time finish that secured the Lionesses’ first major trophy, a goal Kelly memorably celebrated by taking off her shirt and whirling it around her head as she wheeled away in her sports bra, has made her a household name.

“I am definitely getting stopped (in the street) a little bit more, but I haven’t changed as a person,” Kelly said.

“I feel like I am just me. I try to be myself in every situation. Being approachable and being able to speak to young girls, to influence so many people, is very special to me because I once looked up to the likes of Kelly Smith and Jill Scott.

“To be able to be that person for young females today…I think it is great seeing so many of us being able to do so.

“I’ve seen a lot of players and tags on Instagram of players doing the celebration. A Newcastle Women’s player did the celebration. I think it is great to see the impact we have had. That celebration for me was just a spontaneous moment and to see it influence so many people is special.

“I think it was very powerful. In the moment I didn’t realise. I just celebrated the goal at Wembley as I would when I was a kid playing in the cages.

“That just reminded me of those moments and I was being myself in that moment. For me, I didn’t realise how much it would do for women but it’s very special that it did.”

Former City midfielder Scott, holder of 161 England caps, retired after the Euros, along with the team’s record scorer Ellen White.

And 26-cap Kelly added: “Jill was like a mum to us. So having ‘big sisters’ in Rach (Daly) and Millie (Bright, the squad’s captain for the World Cup) is great.

“They are just so relaxed and bring a laugh to the table. I think it is great to have that. There is so much experience within them and being able to lean on players like that is very important.

“I think there are so many leaders in this group with so much experience. Even the young players, as people would say, we have so much experience.

“I think being able to have so many players that have been to tournaments in the past is a great balance. The depth of our squad is amazing.”

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