Impetus was represented in FA Women’s Super League media conferences by Kieran Yap, who heard from Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes ahead of their game with Tottenham Hotspur, and Abi Ticehurst, who spoke to Reading boss Kelly Chambers as she prepares her team to face West Ham United (22/4/22).
Above: Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes speaking to the media. Photo: Chelsea FC Women.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes is under no illusions about the challenge ahead for her side, but is confident that they can hold onto first place for the final month of the season.
The reigning champions currently sit one point clear of Arsenal but face a tough schedule of must win matches to clinch a third consecutive title in the FAWSL
Speaking to the media ahead on Friday, Hayes was pleased with the mood around the squad. The confidence is high at Kingsmeadow after another F.A Cup Final place was secured. The Blues defeated Arsenal 2-0 in a tightly contested semi-final last weekend.
“We’ve just had a really good training session,” she said of the preparations. “There was a lot of laughter, (and) I think a lot of confidence in the group. It’s always sort of difficult when you come home from international breaks, those games are so tough on the players that have been travelling worldwide. I think to win that game in the way we did last week has given us a huge lift into this week.”
The equation for Chelsea is simple. Win all four remaining games and they will be crowned champions. It is a tough ask as two of those games come against fifth placed Tottenham Hotspur in the space of just five days. However their destiny remains in their own hands for now.
“We just have to focus on this one,” said Hayes. “We’re going into a tricky pitch, probably the worst pitch in the league if I’m honest. I think that makes things very difficult.
“The fact that they haven’t conceded a lot of goals against the top teams at home makes this a difficult game for us. The fact that we haven’t played them, there’s an unknown that comes with that.
“They’re an aggressive team with a very very good defensive record, we’re going to have to work really hard to have a win there.
“However, our focus and confidence I think is growing. I think the team has adapted so well to the challenges put in front of them. We know this is a must win game, so sometimes that makes it easier.”
Tottenham has enjoyed a strong season. Spurs boast the third best defensive record in the league, behind only Chelsea and Arsenal.
Hayes must prepare he team to play them twice in five days after earlier fixtures were rearranged due to COVID. It is a tough challenge even without the pressure of the league title at stake.
“They make it a difficult place to go,” Hayes said of Barnet FC’s The Hive Stadium, Tottenham’s home ground.
“I think the pitch makes it a challenging place to be. I think every top team that’s gone there has had to work hard to earn anything they’ve got from it. It’ll be no different for us. They’re in their position in the league through hard work and they’re deserving of that and they deserve our respect and they have that. My job is to get my group right for that, that’s what I’m doing.”
Chelsea emerged from the clash with Arsenal unscathed, and Hayes anticipates that aside from Fran Kirby, she will have a full squad to choose from.
The lineup is packed with international stars, but ontop of the indisputable talent, it is the mentality of the squad that gives Hayes confidence that they can deliver in the run in.
“I hear lots that money wins games, if that’s the case and there’s a relative amount of parity between three of us at the top… my team has won more than most in the last few years.
Some of that’s the character of the personnel. Some of that’s the longevity of the team… some of that is being able to mix it up when you can have as much possible possession for example and you might have to play more direct.
“The one stand out factor with my team is that even when we don’t play well, we stay in the game. That’s strong mentality from everyone, that’s confidence, that’s camaraderie, that’s been built over such a long time. “
Chelsea travel to face Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday 24th April at 2:30pm.
Reading head coach Kelly Chambers believes she knows what to expect from Sunday’s opponents West Ham United and can build on that knowledge to her team’s advantage.
“I don’t think West Ham have changed very much in any performance this season. We know they’re very much woman for woman in terms of defensively they’re aggressive in the press. So, we know what we’ve got to deal with.
“They started bright against Manchester City (in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend), and I think the mistake from Gilly Flaherty set them back, they could’ve kept a foot in the game but yeah we know what we’re going to face. We know we always have a tough encounter against them.
“We’ve got to be better in possession, be more comfortable to possess the ball. Look, for us over the last couple of games, we need to be more ruthless in front of goal, I think that’s cost us a few points in games recently and we’ve had chances where 1v1’s with
goalkeepers, we’ve got to be finishing those chances. I believe we’ll have those chances at the weekend, for me it’s in both ends of the boxes when we play West Ham.
“Both teams like to play aggressive, both teams like to defend aggressively so we know that the most important part is going to be how we defend our box and our half of the pitch, but also when we do those moments in and around their goal, we need to punish and for us that’s going to be a real highlight going into the game.
“We know we’ll create opportunities, we do that a lot. It’s making sure we build
confidence in training and in front of goal, making sure that people are taking chances in terms of instead of passing the ball when we should be shooting. We’ve been working on those parts in training and making sure people are taking those chances they take them.”
The Royals boss had good news in terms of availability for the visit of West Ham United. “Everyone is looking good, obviously the only injury we have is Emma
Harries (plus Brooke Chaplen’s ongoing challenges) who’s out now for the remainder of the season after picking up a serious (ACL) injury away with England on the last international camp so right now she’s the only player we’re missing at the weekend so everyone is fully fit and raring to go to get back into a game.
In terms of how Harries is doing, Chambers revealed: “When the news came through, it was heart-wrenching because she’s obviously a long-serving player for us and she’s been doing really, really well and found her feet this season in the WSL.”
Royals star Brooke Chaplen remains out indefinitely after a tumour was found in her leg. Chambers asserted that whilst the rehab process will be a long one, Chaplen remains in good spirits.
“She’s had her operation and she’s trying to let the knee settle down. It’s not a nice one to really stabilise that knee. But she’s in with us every day as usual and again it’s just a case of getting her back fit and taking the time to make sure we get it right. In terms of next season for her, right now, it’s unknown in terms of what the knee can present and what she can actually do going forward.”
In terms of Reading’s more recent new arrivals, Chambers spoke about the impact of Sanne Troelsgaard on the entire squad. “Sanne is a different breed to everybody else in my squad. She’s very, very professional, she goes above and beyond to make sure that she’s fit, she’s strong. She’s in the gym everyday, some people would say that she probably does too much but I don’t think we’ve seen the best of her. I think it’s taken her a little bit of time to settle in, it’s the first time she’s been this far away from her family.
“So, there’s loads of things at the moment, but it’s just taking her a little bit of time to settle and really get to know the squad and obviously coming in half way through the season doesn’t help that anyway. As much as she’s been a great impact, I think we’ll see bigger and better things from her going into next season.
Continuing on the theme of looking slightly further ahead, the Reading head coach revealed that she is positive in terms of her squad make up already for next season after a lot of ins-and-outs in recent years.
“We’ve got a big part of the squad that are still under contract for next season so it’s a case of I’m going through the process with players that are out of contract right now. Look, we’re always open in terms of transfer window, for me, it’s a case of I’ve got to have everything set from above and waiting for those confirmations in terms of what our season can look like for next year and how much we can push on.
“If I look at the last two summer windows, we’ve had a massive turnaround in players so to build that consistency has been difficult and that is going to be key for us next season. We’ve got our foundations, we’ve been able to build on that this season and next season we really need to kick on because we’ve got that big group of players that will be stepping into next season and will know what I want to get out of it.”
Reading host West Ham United on Sunday 24th April at 2:00pm.