KATHRYN BATTE: Rachel Daly's evolution to WSL top scorer is remarkable

KATHRYN BATTE: Rachel Daly’s evolution from left back to the top scorer in the Women’s Super League is astonishing… and she’s done it for mid-table Aston Villa!

  • Rachel Daly played at left back for England when they triumphed at the Euros
  • This season she has played up front and is the top goalscorer in the WSL
  • Her evolution is even more remarkable as she is playing for mid-table Aston Villa 

How many people had Rachel Daly to finish as the Women’s Super League’s top scorer in September? Anyone? I didn’t think so. 

After playing every game of last summer’s European Championship at left back, Daly signed for Aston Villa at the start of the season and 20 goals later she is on the verge of winning the golden boot.

Let me explain. Daly has not become a striker overnight. She played as a forward in the National Women’s Soccer League in America, but her versatility, and the fact England had prolific forwards like Ellen White, saw her forced to plug gaps when it came to international football.

At Houston Dash, Daly would do extra training sessions to work on her defending so she could perform for the Lionesses when needed. But after the Euros, Daly wanted to return home to be closer to her family. Villa needed a forward. It was the perfect move, but few could have expected it to go quite as well as this.

Villa managed just 13 goals as a team last season. With Daly leading the line, complemented by additional astute signings like Jordan Nobbs and Kirsty Hanson, they have managed 42.

Aston Villa striker Rachel Daly (centre) is closing in on winning this season’s golden boot

Daly played as a left back at the Euros last year but has shown herself to be a clinical finisher this season

Daly’s achievement is even more remarkable given that she is playing for a mid-table team

Daly’s 20 goals make her the highest scoring English player in a single WSL season. She has twice as many goals as Chelsea’s Sam Kerr and Manchester United’s Alessia Russo.

Kerr was named as the Football Writers’ Player of the Year last week. She received double the amount of votes as Daly, who was my pick and finished second. The fact she is in with a chance of the golden boot is remarkable. Her only failure is that she does not play for one of the ‘big four’ clubs.

Kerr won the award last year when she broke the record for the most goals in a WSL season with 21. Daly is one away from matching that in a team that creates far less. She has a big chance conversion rate of 75 percent. She could not have had a better season.

Kerr is not an unworthy winner. She has consistently produced match-winning moments for Chelsea in big games and if they win the league this year, a lot of that will be down to her. Kerr said accusations on social media that she did not deserve the award ‘fired her up’ ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup final, where she scored the winning goal. She always knows how to respond and her personality as well as her talent has made her a household name.

Daly has scored twice as many league goals as Chelsea’s Sam Kerr, who beat her to the Football Writers’ Player of the Year award last week

Daly’s stats (pink line) show she has outperformed Kerr (blue line) in a number of departments this season

Daly does not have the same status or commercial value as Kerr. She was a key member of the England team that won the Euros, but not the focal point. Kerr is the star for club and country and will be the poster girl for this summer’s World Cup in her homeland, Australia.

But there is every chance Daly could oust Russo as the starting striker for England given current form. Sarina Wiegman now sees Daly as a forward and has opted to play others at left back in the last three camps. Russo was one of the ‘super subs’ at the Euros and has perhaps been more impactful off the bench for England than when she has started games.

Injuries to defenders may see Daly revert to left back once again but that would be a shame and Wiegman will most likely see that as a last resort.

There are two games left of this season and Daly is two goals ahead of Manchester City’s Bunny Shaw – who did not even make the top three of the FWA vote. Daly may have been overlooked this time but if she pips Shaw to the golden boot and breaks Kerr’s goal record, her achievements will be impossible to ignore.

Avram Glazer was at Wembley to watch Manchester United play in their first FA Cup final but many were asking where he and his brother Joel have been for the last five years? 

It was the Glazers who disbanded the women’s team in 2005 before reluctantly re-forming eight years later but they have shown little real interest or desire to properly invest on the same level as Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester City. 

To see Glazer, who reportedly went in the dressing room after the game, sat in the stands for the biggest day in the club’s history left a bitter taste for supporters who feel the women’s team have been neglected. 

Todd Boehly was not seen at Wembley as Chelsea lifted their third-straight FA Cup. Given they lost the last final he attended (the Continental League Cup against Arsenal in March), it was perhaps not a bad thing.

Man United co-owner Avram Glazer (centre) attended Sunday’s FA Cup final at Wembley

It will be the end of an era at Lyon when long-serving president Jean-Michel Aulas departs at the end of this season. 

Aulas helped create a dynasty on the women’s side – with the club winning five Champions League finals in a row between 2016 and 2020. They were the first European club to properly commit to substantial investment and provide world class facilities for their women’s team. 

The positive, but also the problem, is that they laid the path that others have now followed. Teams have caught up – their defeat by Chelsea in the quarter-final of the Champions League demonstrated as much. 

There is talk of a takeover by Washington Spirit’s majority owner Michele Kang and she was in attendance as Lyon won their 10th Coupe de France by beating rivals Paris Saint-Germain. 

Barcelona are arguably the next dynasty in women’s football but we will probably never see a period of complete domination like the one Lyon enjoyed.

Lyon’s long-serving president Jean-Michel Aulas is leaving the club at the end of the season

Referees are rarely praised in women’s football but Emily Heaslip’s performance in the FA Cup final was impressive. 

She got the big calls right, correctly identifying that Manchester United’s Nikita Parris was fouled outside the box, rather than inside, by Chelsea’s Niamh Charles. 

It was a close call, with the contact continuing into the penalty area, but Heaslip did not need the help of VAR to make the correct decision. 

It is encouraging to see such a performance from a young official and while there are still improvements that need to be made in female officiating, we should not forget to applaud good performances when we see them.

Referee Emily Heaslip (left) impressed in the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Man United

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