Impetus’ Kieran Yap heard from Chelsea boss Emma Hayes and key player Millie Bright at today’s media conference ahead of Sunday’s huge game against Manchester United (6/5/22).
Photo: Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes was in positive form at today’s media conference. Photo: Sky Sports.
Chelsea coach Emma Hayes is not feeling the pressure in the decisive game of the season.
The equation for Hayes’ top placed side is simple. If they defeat Manchester United they will be guaranteed a third FA Women’s Super League title in a row.
If Arsenal better their result in their match at West Ham United, the title goes go the North London club.
It will not be an easy task, The Blues will face a Manchester United side who are hunting a result to secure a Champions League place.
Speaking the media on Friday, Hayes detailed how both she and the club both deal with the intensity of repeated must-win games.
“We take everything in small chunks, daily chunks to build towards the game,” she said. “I don’t think this game has any different impact on us than the week before… because we’ve had to win every game. So it’s easy for us in our mindset to know that you have to do that, but you have to build towards it.
“You have to train properly, you have to recover properly, you have to prepare your mindset and all of that energy can be spent on game day not in the days leading up to it. I think our squad do really really well at managing that.”
It is a concept that was echoed by star defender Millie Bright. The England international described a team that had great balance but also extremely driven individuals.
“We know what we need to do to get the job done, and we know what’s expected of one another,” said Bright. “Everyone’s got a lot of experience in our team. “Everyone’s been in different scenarios where they’ve had to deal with this sort of pressure. For me it’s just another example of being at a top club. For us it’s what is expected, it’s what Emma’s prepared us for.”
Like her coach, Bright was unfussed at the prospect of another vital match. Chelsea’s players have been accustomed to this. Last season they were also crowned on the final day of the season after cruising to a 5-0 over Reading.
“I think for us, every game is a must-win and that’s the mentality that we’ve had throughout the season,” reflected Bright.
“It really doesn’t make a difference in my opinion. We want to go there, we want to get a win, a good performance and end the season on a high so that would have been the same no matter what.”
If they are crowned league champions, the celebrations will be extra sweet for the home fans. In the previous two seasons, they have won away from home or during COVID lockdowns. On Sunday, they will be at Kingsmeadow, their fortress home ground where they enjoy strong support and an enviable record.
Bright described the home fans as like a 12th player that gives her teammates a lift when needed.
“A lot of the trophies we have won have been hard to celebrate. So to be given an opportunity to do that back at home in front of the fans who have been absolutely amazing the whole season would be incredible.”
If Bright seemed relaxed, Hayes was almost Zen-like in her approach to the season’s most important fixture. She reflected on the anxiety and stress of raising a son in the world and the daily issues many people face. Compared to those concerns, competing for a title was not stressful, but a case of living the dream. It was exactly where she and her players wanted to be.
“Look at the rising cost of people paying their bills, this is far from pressure. This is a joy, I love my job. I enjoy these situations and more importantly I enjoy representing a club that I absolutely adore and want to be in a position where we can continue to win on behalf of Chelsea is something I was born for.
“There’s no pressure… maybe an older wiser coach who is enjoying it a little more perhaps than the past.”
Hayes’ outlook was born from her unsuccessful tenure in the USA with Chicago Red Stars. Under her management, the team only recorded six wins in 26 games. Times have certainly changed for the reigning winner of FIFA’s Best Women’s Coach award. She credits those early struggles with crafting a new philosophy.
“I never forget failing so badly when I was in Chicago, and it sticks in my brain how I let so much affect me. The growth of social media, lots of different owners in my head, not feeling like I could find a clear solution. I promised myself that whatever happened from that day, that I was always going to live much differently as a coach, and I have ever since.
“I’m just blessed to be in the position I’m in for as long as I’ve been in and grateful that we have the opportunity to compete for the title on Sunday.”
In many ways, should Chelsea be triumphant, this will be the most impressive of the three league wins.
Aside from the constant uncertainty about the club’s ownership, they have had multiple long-term injuries to important players. Captain Magda Eriksson was injured early in the season, Pernille Harder joined her on the sidelines and Fran Kirby has been unavailable through illness.
In addition to that, Melanie Lupolz is on maternity leave, and both Sam Kerr and Ji So-Yun departed for the Asian Cup mid-season.
For Chelsea to have survived these absences with championship aspirations intact is something that Hayes is particularly proud of. She highlighted the improved form of Jess Carter, the starring role of Guro Reiten, and the selfless teamwork of Erin Cuthbert.
“My question is how many top teams would have coped with that?” she said of the multiple obstacles they had to overcome to reach the pinnacle again.
A title win at Kingsmeadow will cap off another remarkable season by Chelsea and their manager, but she is quick to spread praise around the entire club.
“The one thing I’ve loved about working at this club is that everything that’s been done, has been done by everyone. The build at Kingsmeadow, the build of the fan base, the marketing, the media, the commercialisation of the club. That whole one (club) approach I think has put the team in a place where it could be successful on a pitch at Kingsmeadow.”
That stadium is often referred to as a fortress, but both Hayes and Bright agreed that it is their spiritual and footballing home. Although the club can sell out Wembley at an FA Cup Final, they are resistant to playing league games at Stamford Bridge.
“I’d much rather play in front of a packed crowd than a big stadium with 5,000 people in the back of a doubleheader where people don’t want to be there,” said Hayes. That for me is not the right way to go.”
If the players needed any extra incentive, this may be the last time star midfielder Ji So-Yun is seen in the WSL. It will also be a likely farewell to Drew Spence and Jonna Andersson.
Bright is determined to send them off on a high. “It will be, I think, the biggest high and I think it will be biggest win that we’ve ever done with the season that we’ve had with the challenges, how competitive the league’s been. But ultimately it will be a great send off for the players that have been so good for so long.”
Chelsea face Manchester United on Sunday at midday.