Impetus’ Kieran Yap was in Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes‘ media conference for us today, and heard her reveal her huge respect for Sunday’s opponents, and why she is determined her side will be better than ever this season (16/9/22).
Above: Lifting trophies has become a habit for Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes, but she wants her team to be even better this season. Photo: Sky Sports.
Chelsea FC will once again kick off the season as defending champions. Emma Hayes’ team were scheduled to open their campaign against West Ham United in front of a sold-out Stamford Bridge last weekend, but instead they will now travel to face Liverpool on Sunday.
“I love going back to Liverpool,” Hayes told the media. “I studied up there so it’s great. I get to see friends, playing at Prenton Park has always been a good stadium to go to. It’s great that the women have a top-quality surface to play on. The game, where it’s at, we need to be playing on the best surface.”
Hayes remains philosophical about the postponement of last week’s fixtures. She believes that the games were called off for the right reasons and another chance to play in the men’s stadiums will present itself.
“Our country has lost unbelievable service from a person who has given absolutely everything to her country during her reign. For the right reasons the game didn’t happen, and I don’t think it will be the last time we will sell out Stamford Bridge.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m more than happy to kick off away to Liverpool because I support the rationale for why the games didn’t take place.”
The delayed start to the season may have frustrated some supporters, but the trophy-collecting manager is confident it has not impacted her side’s focus or preparation. The past experience of playing football during COVID has left everybody in football flexible and ready for last minute changes.
The potential for stalled momentum following the massive crowds at England’s Euro win was brushed aside by the Chelsea manager.
“The women’s game is taking care of itself. I think the summer is another demonstration of the quality on show that’s been building in the WSL. I’ve said many times before it’s the best league in the world, I think it’s the most competitive.
“I think that every team had strengthened, and this is another year where the quality is going to get better and better across the board. It’s been an enjoyable pre-season where the team are as prepared as the can be going into the opening weekend. We just really need to kick off to see how much progress we’ve made during the summer weeks.”
Liverpool is one of the giant names in world sport, and Hayes is happy that they have returned to the FAWSL. They finished top of the Championship 11 points clear of London City Lionesses and only lost twice out of 22 matches in 2021/22.
Although newly promoted sides traditionally struggle in the FAWSL, Hayes does not anticipate Liverpool will have the same difficulties.
“It’s great,” said Hayes. “Matt (Beard) is an experienced manager who I think has built a solid squad going into the season. It’s great to see that they’re back up in the top division. We’re just looking forward to playing them on Sunday.
“He knows the league… he knows what it takes at this level. Liverpool will not struggle, I think they will be very competitive this year.”
As they hunt for their fourth consecutive league title, Chelsea’s squad will look a little different this season. Some legends of the Hayes era such as Ji So-Yun and Drew Spence have departed, and the club has recruited impressively in the off-season.
Kadeisha Buchanan joined from Lyon, and the central defender made a strong impression in pre-season both on and off the field.
“She’s a winner,’ says Hayes of the Canadian international. “She’s been performing at a high level for a long time for both club and country. She is coming to Chelsea because she wants the challenge. I’m sure this will be an environment which will challenge her to continue with those consistencies and those habits and become on the absolute best. She’s slotted in really well, a really good character and a funny girl.”
Lauren James may not exactly be a new recruit, but she will inherit Ji’s number 10 shirt. Hayes is excited about her as a long-term Chelsea prospect but urges patience with the rising star.
“I think it’s probably Lauren’s first preseason in maybe four years. She’ll keep gradually building, not to expect too much too soon. She’s still learning all the details around how to be a top professional. Everybody’s aware of her talent, our job this year is to keep her healthy, keep her on the grass and I’m sure she’ll contribute to the team throughout the season.”
Chelsea has a full squad to pick from this Sunday. There are no surprise injuries and Hayes’ biggest problem is fitting all that quality into just 11 places on the field. Erin Cuthbert is expected to play a deeper midfield role this season and Ballon D’or nominee Sam Kerr is fit to defend her Golden Boot status.
For Hayes, the mantra for the season is simple and perhaps frightening for the other sides in the FAWSL.
“I just want to get better,” says the OBE and MBE recipient, and 2022’s manager of the year. I’m not focussed on winning (the league) I just want to get better. I want to make sure training is top class tomorrow.
“I want to make sure that the starters I select perform at the levels we demand in this environment.”
Chelsea play Liverpool on Sunday at 5pm local time.