Pernille Harder Emma Hayes Sam Kerr Fran Kirby Ellen White Kelly Smith Manchester Football Arsenal Chelsea Pernille Harder Emma Hayes Sam Kerr Fran Kirby Ellen White Kelly Smith Manchester

Kelly Smith: ‘This WSL title will be extra-special – Chelsea know they’re being hunted’

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T he former Arsenal and England striker Kelly Smith knows how hard it is to win when there is a target on your back. Arsenal were perennial winners when Smith was a player there, across three stints between 1996 and 2017.

England’s former record goalscorer, whose tally of 46 was passed by Ellen White last year, says that makes Chelsea’s march towards a fourth successive Women’s Super League title all the more impressive. “It’s hard to win the league as it is, but when you’re No 1 everyone wants to beat you, it’s 10 steps harder, and I’ve experienced that with Arsenal on numerous occasions,” Smith says. “Everyone’s gunning for you because you’re the title winners.

To do it again and again shows you how high the standards are at Chelsea. I remember speaking to Emma Hayes at the start of the season and she said this was the best squad she’s ever had in terms of the different qualities and levels that she was seeing on a daily basis in training.

Then there is the mental side of it: they are all winners, they all want it and they all know they’re being hunted.” Chelsea are two points clear of Manchester United at the top, with only relegation-threatened Reading standing between them and a third successive double on Saturday. “Of the games I’ve seen I don’t think Chelsea have played particularly well, but they grind out the results; it’s like muscle memory, I guess, in the big games,” says Smith, an ambassador for the WSL’s title sponsor, Barclays. “Especially not having Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder, two of their most creative and attacking players, and the understanding that they have with Sam Kerr.

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