Reading’s Kelly Chambers on the Development of the FAWSL and Challenge of City

Ahead of tomorrow’s final game of the FAWSL season for Reading, Impetus’ Abi Ticehurst heard from their head coach Kelly Chambers (7/5/22).

Above: Kelly Chambers, Reading’s head coach. Photo: PA.

Reading head coach Kelly Chambers is well aware that her team face a serious test on the final day of the season against Manchester City, but is confident her players are prepared and ready for the task.

“It’s going to be a tough game, we’ve seen over their past fixtures that they’ve had how they’ve been quite rampant in front of goal. Also, I think Birmingham did a very good job for 45 minutes to frustrate them (on Wednesday night). Our game will be their third game in a week. We know what we’re going to be facing and for us we’ll be taking our approach into the game, in terms of tactically to try and frustrate them and try and be defensively really, really strong and that’s the stuff we’ve been working on this week.”

Reading’s opponents on Sunday have had a sensational couple of months. With what seemed for so long an unlikely Champions League qualification spot now in their own hands, and a fully fit team at the peak of their powers, it seems like a long time ago since Manchester City’s head coach Gareth Taylor was under pressure at the club.

Above: Gareth Taylor, head coach of Manchester City who Reading face tomorrow. Taylor’s future was under question before Christmas. Photo: Sky Sports.

“I think having players coming back has helped. He had a lot of injuries at the start of the season and players are obviously through that process and coming back into the fold and back into the team,” Chambers observed.

“For Gareth, he’s done exceptionally well and been exceptionally patient. He knows what the team can achieve, he trusted the process and trusted the players that they’d be able to turn it around and we’ve been able to see the fruitions of that now.

“You watch them and they’re unstoppable at the minute. They have world class players in their set up and for us on Sunday, we’ll need to make that game as difficult as possible and that for us is making sure that we’re defensively strong.”

Manchester City’s win over Birmingham City in midweek condemned the West Midlands club to relegation. With the Blues having been a foundation member of the FAWSL, Chambers sees this as an example of the direction that the women’s game is heading.

“They’ve been in it from the start, they’ve always been a team that have competed in this league and competed against the best. We’re starting to see the women’s game take a different turn. As much as we want to try and keep everyone on a level playing field, but unfortunately the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City in terms of the money that’s been invested there.

“They’re just pulling away from the other clubs and even if I look at ourselves, we’re now going to be the only team with a men’s Championship side in the league. But, when you’ve got Brighton, Leicester, Aston Villa, West Ham, those kind of mid-table teams, it’s about how do we get there. The investment in the women’s game from the top clubs is far superior to what the other clubs around them are getting.

“We thought the gap was getting smaller and don’t get me wrong, the league’s been very competitive this season and I think there’s not been a game where any manager would step into and go ‘this will be a three points in terms of planning ahead’, but I think we’re starting to see that divide again in terms of the top three and everybody else.

“In terms of the off-the-pitch stuff, like facilities, a lot of the teams’ training at the men’s training grounds. But, when you get to playing budget, I think it’s night and day in terms of what the top teams are investing. It might take time, Tottenham are very new, they’re probably going through a building process. I’d like to think everybody will be heading that way, it’s a case of looking at those clubs and they probably have double the player budget that some of who are in and around the table do right now.

Above: Kelly Chambers asserts that the gap between the top three and other clubs has widened this season. Photo: Robin Parker/FA.

“So, that gap is quite big but in terms of everything else, I think it’s great that the women are training at the men’s ground, clubs starting to try and play at their men’s grounds. Investment in being able to grow things off the pitch which allows you to then grow on the pitch.”

That investment from clubs in the FAWSL is seeing an increased focus on and recognition of fitness and tactics.

“There’s a lot more…elements this season for me, in terms of being able to look at ‘can we change? do we need to change?’ We’re adding so much more quality with regard to players, we’ve got some unbelievable world-class players in the league right now and that is driving the game forward.

“Some of our players haven’t been professional for that long, there’s still a learning element within that side of things. What does a professional environment look like, especially for our younger players?

“In terms of the league, we’ve definitely seen a rise in the quality and standard of football being played, that’s then leading to more people coming to watch it, then see the figure numbers for Sky and BBC. You see the flip side in terms of England games now. This league was put in place to create a winning women’s England team and I think that they’re in a very good place to step into the Euros this year.”

In terms of how she believes her own team have progressed this season, Chambers sees mixed signs. “It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster season, in terms of where we are, maybe (I’d like to be) one or two places higher if I look at the season as a whole I’d have liked to have finished.

“When we look at stats we’re fourth with clean sheets in the league, so why aren’t we winning games? We had that really good period, so we’ve had consistency this season and that’s what we need to iron out for next season. More consistent with our performances, more consistent with playing styles, and more consistent in terms of results.”

Off the pitch this week at Reading there has been mixed news with sadness at the announcement of Tash Harding’s impending departure, and the success of Amalie Eikeland at the club’s Gala night.

In terms of Harding leaving, Chambers said: “It was one of those (situations) in terms of pushing forward and in terms of freshness. In terms of where Tash was and where we were. It was a case of that decision was made and then she can start looking at what her next steps are.”

Above: Amalie Eikeland – a successful night for the Norwegian at the club’s Gala awards. Photo: Reading FC.

On Eikeland’s clean sweep of awards at their Gala night, Chambers was full of praise for her Norwegian star. “I think she’s been phenomenal.

“From start to finish, I think you’re guaranteed to get an eight out of 10 performance (from her) weekly. First and foremost the energy that she gives us, I think there’s been one or two games where she hasn’t played in midfield and she’s been a big miss there.

“Her energy, her willingness to get back and support the defence to prevent goals, but also her energy to get higher up the pitch. She’s been one of the first names on the team sheet across the season and been an integral part of the team.”

With this Sunday being the final game of the FAWSL campaign, Chambers cast her eyes ahead to preparing for next season and potential transfer targets.

“We’re looking to bring in a couple of players. For me what I’m really excited about is having a big core of the group moving to a second season together. It’s something that I haven’t had over the last couple of windows, I’ve had a turnaround of eight to 10 players in the last two windows.

“We’ve started something now, laid foundations, this season was always going to be one of these. The players are getting to know each other, I’m learning about the new players and everything else. I’ve got a big core of the group staying and what does that season look like.”

In terms of potential targets, the Reading boss said: “A lot of players if they are in the Euros, they want to try and get stuff done before they step into that zone because they want to come out of that knowing where they’re going.

“It’s important for me that we’re trying to get that part of the game plan done, so that if we’re bringing in someone from the Euros we concentrate on that and they know what we’re doing post that.”

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