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Women's Super League

How Hayes and Eidevall added extra spice to Chelsea and Arsenal's Women's Super League title fight

18:00 GMT 07/05/2022
Emma Hayes Jonas Eidevall 2021
The WSL trophy will be handed out on Sunday, with the Blues and the Gunners vying for top spot at the end of an enthralling campaign

Alongside its title races and trophy chases, English football has long had entertaining managerial rivalries off the pitch that have complemented the spectacle on it.

The tension between Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson is iconic, while Jose Mourinho quickly became infamous for his off-the-pitch antics upon arriving in the Premier League.

For a long time, that had yet to translate to the women’s game – for lots of reasons – but in the Women’s Super League this year, it has started to creep in and has added spice to a title race that will be concluded this Sunday, on the last day of the season.

It will either be Emma Hayes’ Chelsea or Jonas Eidevall’s Arsenal that picks up the trophy, the pair separated by just one point in the former’s favour before the final fixtures.

Eidevall took up his position with the club last summer and his first taste of the WSL was a home fixture with the Blues, the reigning champions, at the Emirates. It was a thrilling game, ending 3-2 to the Gunners.

The caveat was that Chelsea’s line-up didn’t include Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby or Sophie Ingle – all of whom were involved in last summer’s Olympics and returned to England late as a result.

Arsenal, however, did play their Olympians.

“They had three weeks off,” Hayes said after being asked about the trio starting on the bench. “Arsenal gave their players no time off whatsoever.

“It's a long season and the reason I say it's a long season is, yes, the advantage might be there today, but my job is to keep everybody on the pitch for the whole season.”

After the game, in his own press conference, Eidevall said something Hayes would pick up on at a later date, too.

"The goals we scored, they have some similarities in them, right?” he explained. “I think those are the goals that you can score against Chelsea if they don't choose to be lower in defence.

"Today, they didn't choose that. That was the opportunity they were giving us to score goals.

"They don't like to sit low and defend. If they have any weakness, it's that.

"I think that was pretty clear when you saw the Champions League final against Barcelona, when they were forced to defend in long spells of the game. They get into problems."

A month later, his Arsenal team would be beaten 4-1 by Barca in a devastating performance from the European champions. Chelsea played out a 3-3 draw with Wolfsburg the next day and Hayes was asked about the Gunners’ game.

"I know Jonas felt that, from watching us against them, he understood why they beat us,” she responded. “I'm sure last night he understood why they beat them."

The pair met again in December’s delayed Women’s FA Cup final. Before the game, Eidevall had told the press he was superstitious about black cats.

“If Emma sees this,” he laughed, “she will probably buy a thousand black cats with the money Chelsea have and send them all over our training pitch.”

She didn’t – but she did use the information to entertain, nonetheless. At Wembley, Chelsea were much the better team, winning 3-0.

“When the third goal went in, I was simply purring,” Hayes said, complete with a cat impression.

There is the utmost respect between these two – something reiterated whenever they talk about one another in the media. There is no burning hatred. There’s no intensity like rivalries the Premier League has seen.

But it has been another reason why this WSL title race has been so entertaining to watch unfold.

Going into the final few games, with neither team having room to drop points, it has continued.

Asked if he’d watched Chelsea’s narrow 2-1 win over Tottenham at the end of last month, a victory that kept them in control of the title with only two games to go, Eidevall replied: “I didn’t.

“I didn’t focus on Chelsea when they were rearranging their fixtures in January so that Sam Kerr didn’t have to miss games because of the Asia Cup and I don’t focus on them now.

“I focus on Arsenal getting as many points as possible and seeing where that gets us in the table.”

“I don't care,” Hayes said a few days later when asked if she felt her adversary was playing mind games. “I'm too busy getting the team ready for the week.

“I think it's great that there's a competitive rivalry between two teams. I hugely respect him and his team and the work they've done this year to push us all the way.

"I think Arsenal have had a tremendous season and quite rightly, they're going into the last game still contending to be champions. That's what we've wanted to see for the league.

“I think as for the small talk, that's for you guys to comment on, not me.”

The Chelsea boss has said throughout the season that these narratives are for the media, for the fans of the league to enjoy, and they are.

They add even more intrigue to what has been a thrilling battle for the WSL title. It’s entertaining, it’s another element worth talking about and it generates further excitement.

If the Blues beat Manchester United on Sunday, they will be champions for a third year in a row. They only need to match Arsenal’s result to keep the trophy.

The Gunners, meanwhile, will focus on getting three points against West Ham while hoping United do them a favour.

That could well happen, too.

Marc Skinner’s side need to win to keep their chances of securing Women’s Champions League football alive, hoping for three points in London and a victory for Reading against Manchester City, too, to overcome the two-point deficit keeping them out of Europe at the moment.

With that huge incentive, could we have another twist in this fantastic season? It would be quite the way to end what’s already been a captivating watch from all angles.

We’ve had plenty of drama on the pitch and off the pitch for nine months as each episode of the WSL in 2021-22 has unfolded. Now it’s time for the season finale – and it’s unlikely to disappoint.