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Eniola Aluko: Chelsea Ladies can bounce back to knock Man City off their perch

Eniola Aluko

Football can be a ruthless business and it’s certainly seemed that way this week.

Manchester City beat my team Chelsea to the Women’s Super League title with a 2-0 victory over us last Sunday, then Sam Allardyce lost his job as England men’s manager on Tuesday – but in neither case is it all doom and gloom.

In previous columns I have spoken a lot about how much it meant to me to win the league and FA Cup double last year and make history with Chelsea, so to have lost both trophies to our closest rivals City and Arsenal respectively this season is really tough to take.

City are unbeaten in the league this season and I have to congratulate them for their consistency – they have been rewarded for keeping clean sheets in what is a short WSL season of 16 games.

Last season we won the league with the best defence and City are deserved champions this season after conceding only three goals in 15 matches so far, so it shows a strong defensive record is key to a title win.

Much has been written about the resources at City’s disposal but I don’t think investing heavily in facilities or players is necessarily a guarantee for success in the WSL.

Last season we were getting changed out of a small boot room while our new changing room was being built – and we still finished as champions. The improvement of modern facilities is important but ultimately it is about hard work and team performance on the pitch.

Retaining the title is also not a guarantee and City will now find out how hard that is. City won the Continental Cup in 2014 and lost it in 2015, Arsenal won the FA Cup in 2014 and lost it to us in 2015, then we lost it this year.

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Manchester City’s title triumph reached the front pages

There have been three different league winners over the past three seasons, and it’s a sign that the WSL is continuously growing in competitiveness, with teams becoming tactically more astute.

We’ve had to work hard to compete against sides who have sat deep in defence and then broken forward on the counter-attack, a tactic that is becoming more common across European women’s football and particularly in the WSL.

Sweden, for example, reached the Olympic final by taking this approach. Staying in matches and hoping for extra-time or penalties might not be pretty but it can lead to success. At Euro 2016, Portugal’s men also put this into practice to great effect.

You may also have seen that City’s title win reached the front page of the Guardian newspaper, which was another huge step forward for the development of the women’s game in England.

Of course, it wasn’t the headline I wanted to read but I am humble enough to take a wider view and see how it is a positive for women’s football, which is something I’ve also done with this season.

Two years ago we missed out on the title and I was devastated, but this season I’m a lot more pragmatic. I can accept that City were more consistent than Chelsea and the challenge is for us to improve on that aspect next season and knock them off their perch.

One thing I know is that Chelsea know how to successfully bounce back from losing the title, and we will be hungrier next season.

The only way is up for England

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Sam Allardyce left his position as England manager after only 67 days

Off the pitch it has been a desperately disappointing week for English football as England manager Allardyce lost his job after one game in charge.

From my experience as an England player with 102 caps and 11 years representing my country, I know how important the values of integrity are to the Football Association and the expectation that those values need to be reflected in its players, leaders and managers.

My mum always used to tell me when I was younger that “to whom much is given, much is expected”. For those of us that have had the privilege to represent England as players or lead the England team as managers, we have a responsibility to act and represent the England badge with the upmost character, professionalism and integrity.

Character and integrity are big words that are often used freely in hashtags on social media or glossy presentations but it’s much more difficult to bring them to life and see those values acted out.

The FA are the custodians of the game – they set the standards of behaviour of football in this country – and anyone who falls below those standards should not have the privilege of representing the country, whoever you are.

The FA should be applauded for acting swiftly to uphold those values and standards of behaviour despite arriving at what must have been a very difficult decision.

English football may have hit its lowest point but the only way can be up from here and it gives the FA an opportunity to be diligent about the next manager and build from that.

I also hope there will be greater financial regulation in the area of football transfers as no-one wants to see the continuation of corruption in our game.

I’d like to see the FA select the best person for the England job, regardless of nationality.

If England want to have the best chance of winning, pick the best available manager who can bring success to England. I hope Gareth Southgate and England are successful for the next four matches he is in charge.

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Eniola Aluko (left) hit the bar as Chelsea lost the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie 2-0 against Wolfsburg last season

It’s all or nothing in Champions League

One of the great things about football is that you always have another challenge ahead to redeem yourself and, following the disappointment of last Sunday, we now get to test ourselves in the first leg of our Champions League tie against Wolfsburg on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.

It is the second successive season we have taken on the German side, who reached the final last year after beating us 4-1 on aggregate in the last 16.

On that occasion, we weren’t helped by the WSL season finishing a month before the game, but, with the domestic campaign still ongoing, we will be in a better position to do ourselves justice against the two-time champions.

There have still been gaps of four or five weeks between domestic games this term, so I’m not sure how that will affect us, but we are certainly better prepared, fresher and more match sharp than last year.

It’s all or nothing in the Champions League and we need to be ready from the first whistle. We learned the lesson that conceding at home can be very costly, so we will be focused on performing to our best in front of our fans and keeping a clean sheet at home.

England and Chelsea forward Eniola Aluko was speaking to BBC Sport’s Alistair Magowan.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/37508733