Emma Hayes aims to lead Chelsea to a fifth successive WSL title before joining the USA in the summer; “We’re in the best place we’ve ever been,” says the Blues boss; watch Chelsea vs Everton on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Football from 6.30pm; from 6.45pm
Author Joe Shread, @JoeShreadSky
10:45, UK, Saturday 03 February 2024
Emma Hayes may be in the final months of her time at Chelsea, but the things that drove her to six WSL titles are still as sharp as ever.
The Blues have a three-point lead as the campaign enters its final 10 games, with Manchester City and Arsenal both improving. Do Chelsea’s players have what it takes to lift the title?
“I don’t have time to think about them,” is Hayes’ emphatic reply. “I’m just thinking about our margins, our limits and how we can keep where we are.
What about the prospect of City or Arsenal moving above Chelsea before Hayes’ side host Everton on Sunday evening Sky Sports?
“Don’t worry. Don’t be bothered.”
As he chases a fifth straight title, Hayes knows “that’s where you’re at at the end” of the season that matters most.
Hayes’ stance isn’t just showing off or trying to disrupt the chasing pack. The 47-year-old believes that, approaching 12 years, Chelsea have built “the best team we’ve ever had”.
The team could have been undone by the shock announcement in November that Hayes would leave Chelsea to become USA Women’s manager in the summer.
In fact, Hayes says that his side “is in the best place we’ve been this year, at this time”, adding: “The look, the confidence and the clarity are at their best.”
Chelsea’s dominance of domestic affairs under Hayes has been well documented – as has their annual pursuit of Champions League glory. A 4-0 humbling at the hands of Barcelona three years ago was a close second.
In order to get over the hump, Hayes has improved his side’s tactics to ensure that they take control of the match. Going into the weekend, Chelsea are the clear leaders in the WSL and have dominated possession more than any other side in the top flight.
“I’m happy with the way this team is playing,” Hayes said. “I’m glad it’s not changing – coaches always like that.
“But we have more ways to hurt the opponent. It feels like there is no stopping in the final third.
“Sometimes you rely on one or two players but now we have a lot of players who can score goals.”
Few teams understand Chelsea’s failure better than Everton. The West Londoners are unbeaten in their last 13 WSL games against the Toffees – winning their last eight – and won 7-0 in the fixture last season.
Unsurprisingly, Everton are Hayes’ favorite opponent. “It’s always great football,” he says.
“I like the way Brian is [Sorensen] has developed the team and some of their games are winning in the league. But this also plays an open game because they are not afraid to do numbers. “
As for the secret to Chelsea’s success against Everton, it could be quite simple.
“I don’t think there’s any other reason we’ve ruled them other than we have a good reputation,” explains Hayes. “When it comes to both boxes, that’s where we’ve been in control.
“The place in the middle, there’s actually an ebb and flow between both groups.”
Everton’s trip is followed by games against Crystal Palace and Sunderland in the FA Cup and League Cup respectively, before the clash with City. It’s a run that the manager admits could be the most important part of their game so far.
Fortunately for Chelsea, all four games will be played at Kingsmeadow. Hayes says it’s his “favorite place to play” for the side, and it’s no surprise – he’s currently on a 21-game winning streak in the WSL.
But Chelsea are not just relying on home advantage, as they have won seven and drawn their last eight games in all competitions.
This run is particularly impressive as it began with a 4-1 win at Arsenal in December. Just over a month after Hayes was released, the possibility of Chelsea’s players losing hope as the season reached the midpoint was real.
Instead, Hayes used the defeat – combined with a mid-season trip to Morocco – to boost his side.
“It was a one-time thing, I hope, but it also confirmed something about us that, if we don’t do well, we won’t have trophies at the end of the season,” Hayes said of Arsenal’s win.
“We resolved this in Morocco. We had difficult discussions but the team has come through the other side of it.”
Perhaps the most difficult conversation that took place in Agadir was the confirmation that Sam Kerr became the latest star in the women’s game to suffer an ACL injury.
“Nobody wants to be without Sam Kerr,” admits Hayes. “He’s the best.” Losing Kerr, whose goals have contributed to Chelsea’s success since his debut in 2020, was another moment when the club could lose its way.
But problems come with opportunities. As soon as the star striker was beaten, Hayes began to develop a new method of attack.
“I love the challenge of how we can continue to win and find different ways to do that,” explains Hayes. “I always think that way.
“It’s just getting used to the crew and staying true to the team game. That’s important.”
Hayes may enjoy the challenges of his job but he is honest about the challenges he takes. Her move to America is not only about taking on the biggest role in women’s football but also managing her career, which she admits has been “difficult” for her son.
It was understood that Jurgen Klopp, who announced that he will leave Liverpool at the end of the season and take a break from coaching, said that fatigue was the most important factor in his decision.
“With the calendar the way it is, it takes the life out of you – not just the players,” admits Hayes. “I’ll say it as respectfully as I can – the players come from 10am-2pm. The staff come from 8am-6pm. We have to do it every day, for a long time.
“The feelings of everyone involved will definitely need better treatment.”
That Hayes has spent almost 12 years at the top of this difficult task is a testament to his ability. But in the end – and the four trophies are still great – Hayes insists that everyone in the last months of his reign should be on the work to come.
“Everyone knows my commitment to the club and the team,” he says. “So they just need to focus on their work and deliver more trophies.
“That’s what we came for.”
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