Emma Hayes says Chelsea Women enjoy chasing after Arsenal ahead of their Friday title showdown with her side in “another stage of evolution”.
The Blues are not where they would like to be – top of the Women’s Super League which they have won for the past two seasons – but that could all change when the sky sports the cameras turn to Kingsmeadow this Friday for a title showdown with leaders Arsenal, who sit two points and one place above them in the table.
Ask Hayes if there’s a thirst for revenge in her squad and she’ll give you some trouble. But there must be some remnant of a surprise defeat to the Gunners on matchday one that lingers in his players’ psyches. Or a bit of poetry if they finish top of the standings, for the first time this season, beating the very team that has forced them to catch up since that September defeat.
Truly, no one knows better what it takes to win in the English game than the 45-year-old. She freely admits that calling Friday’s game a “must-win” or “must-not-lose” would only add pressure to her dressing room that they could do without. But he is less reserved about how it served them to bounce back from that early disappointment and stay in Arsenal’s footsteps in the second half of the season.
“My job is to put this team in a position to perform on Friday, that’s something they already do very well,” she said. sky sports. “Everyone played their part and contributed to where we are.
“If we’re going to get through this period we need to keep finding goals across the team. It’s been a big priority for us since the turn of Christmas and with back-to-back clean sheets I think we’re in a good place. .
“I never thought being at the top of our game is a permanent place, it’s cyclical, I think it’s game to game. But what I’ve realized is we have been able to play with some of our best players in this recent period, which has produced performances for Chelsea over the years.
“And we’ve not only delivered results, but I think we’re finding another level to our game. So it’s a real testament to strength in depth and shows what a fantastic team we really have.
“We play well, we defend well, we score goals in different positions on the pitch. I think we have found something else for ourselves that reminds me that we are at another stage in our evolution, our team will in another place.”
Chelsea are certainly playing well, despite a small loss of points against Reading and Brighton around Christmas, as well as a Champions League exit against Wolfsburg. Seven clean sheets in their last eight WSL games have kept things tight at the back, with that focus on sharing the attacking burden paying dividends.
Five players scored three or more goals for the Blues in last season’s WSL, and with 10 games to go Chelsea have already reached that tally this time around. Seven different goalscorers have found the back of the net in the club’s last six WSL games.
That said, Chelsea also found lousy ways to win. Last weekend’s 1-0 win over Man City, who had held off Arsenal in their previous game, owed as much to guts as it did to style. That mentality is something Hayes also admires in Jonas Eidevall’s Gunners, and can dominate what Hayes expects to be an “emotional” London Derby.
She says: “I’ve always said that I think the London derbies go very differently to other games. I don’t know what to expect on Friday, but I know you have two fantastic teams on display.
“It’s the same in any game where there is rivalry, it plays on the emotion than other games. The coaches would prefer less emotion in the game, but I know Arsenal are a team who’s been leading all season and I know they’ll do whatever they can to hang on to it.
“I won’t change as a manager, though. I don’t do anything different from week to week, whoever the opponent is. I think that’s crucial – we can’t have it all,’ let’s stand up for this one, and your for the next one. It’s a matter of consistent behaviors.”
With that in mind, Hayes maintains, at least publicly, that there is no extra spice in Friday’s game after the opening day loss. Chelsea probably don’t need it, it’s familiar territory. Last season they overtook Manchester City with 11 games to go and held top spot all season. If they win on Friday, they will overtake Arsenal for the first time – and there will be nine left to hold this time around.
“We come from a hunting position that we really enjoy,” Hayes said. “Ask anyone being chased what it feels like, and it’s a totally different feeling to be the leader or to be second.
“When you’re chasing someone you have to find something different. Psychologically you’re not in control, as far as the team always leading is in their hands. So you know, if Arsenal win every game this season they’s going to be league champions so we know that and for us we just have to focus on them applying as much pressure as possible.
“The team has a great experience of being in this position. I think it showed on Sunday, that experience, the ability to deliver the result, to deliver the performance, whatever the circumstances. I think it’s which Chelsea have done really, really well over the years. But I still feel there will be more turns in the season.”
By the time the WSL trophy is handed out in May, most likely at Kingsmeadow or Meadow Park, Hayes will already have received a personal title in the form of an OBE she received in honor of the New Year.
At the time of the announcement, the Chelsea boss wondered if there had been a mistake. Now that he’s sunk, Price should sit well among his four WSL, three FA Cup and two League Cup medals on what must approach one of the biggest pieces of Surrey’s mantle.
“I’ve already had some amazing experiences in my life and I don’t know how many more I’m going to have,” she says. “What I achieved during my time at Chelsea, it will be really hard to top in the rest of my life.”
Saving the most important question until the end – has she practiced what she will say to the queen? Hayes smiles. “No, I just hope I can curtsy without tripping. I did it once when I got my MBE, but gave in when I got to the reverse steps.”
Watch Chelsea Women vs Arsenal Women in the WSL from 7pm on Friday sky showcase, Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Football; kick off 7:45 p.m.
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