Women’s Champions League: A tie with the Swedes to savour

Emma Hayes reacts to Chelsea Ladies’ Women’s Champions League draw against Rosengard, which she believes is the pick of the ties in the last 16…

The Blues progressed to the second stage of the Women’s Champions League proper by beating Bayern Munich after the two sides finished at 2-2 after two legs, with Fran Kirby’s away goal in Germany proving to be the difference.

The reward for Hayes’ side is a tie against the club that was seeded third for Monday’s draw in Switzerland, with the first leg taking place at Kingsmeadow on Wednesday 8 November.

After the draw, the Blues manager, whose birthday is today (Wednesday) sat down with chelseafc.com for a Champions League discussion.

With the Blues unseeded once again for the last-16 draw, a tough test was always going to await us. What are your thoughts on drawing Rosengard?

‘It’s the tie of the round. Again. They’re another top-five team in Europe and they’ve got a brilliant history in the competition, not to mention a very experienced group of players who are used to playing in the latter stages of the Champions League.

‘But give credit to our team, too, because I don’t think anyone wanted to face us either; every seeded team would have been hoping to avoid us.’

You mentioned their experience in this competition. In comparison, this will be only the fifth Champions League tie in the history of Chelsea Ladies...

‘We are playing catch-up in terms of European football. Look at Rosengard’s history in the Champions League and how many games they’ve played. They’ve regularly made the quarter-finals for the past 15 years; we’ve managed to come through the round of 32 twice.

‘In terms of nous and experience, we’re still a young team in Europe. Our two newest signings, Maria Thorisdottir and Magda Eriksson, were debuting in the competition in the last tie. Look at the average age of the squad – it’s so young and they are going to grow together.

‘We have got catching up to do and that is why, irrespective of what we did against Bayern, Rosengard are favourites. Bayern had the same level of quality as Rosengard, but not the experience. So we’ll have to work twice as hard. They’ve got quality players throughout, with plenty of international centurions. They’ve just signed the top scorer in Champions League history, Anja Mittag.’

Having gone through the experience of Munich, in particular those last 20 minutes when you held out, this is a stronger Chelsea Ladies, though.

‘You need to learn to win in adversity. In those 20 minutes, of course we rode our luck a little bit, but we showed our character, too. I’ve talked about it a lot, but there it was, on display for everyone to see. It was backs-to-the-wall stuff, but the team had played four games in 14 days and it was tiring emotionally, especially having to stay concentrated for so long. The squad deserves unbelievable credit for coming through that. I’m disappointed we lost the game, if I’m being honest.

‘I think it has hardened us. You talk about resilience – how do you develop that? It comes with games like the ones we had against Bayern Munich. When you’re getting peppered, your legs are shaking and you can’t get across the pitch in the same way as you did in the early part of the game – you find a way. You show your will. When you’re playing with team-mates you want to run around for, it makes it easier.

‘This group is together. You can see it, even with the new players blending in. The bench, for those last 20 minutes, couldn’t have done any more to will the team on from the sidelines. That’s the first time I’ve seen that. The bench were screaming the girls home. That’s how united this squad is to reach the next level. And we will give as good as we get against Rosengard.’

You won’t find many club team managers saying they were glad for an international break, but do you think this current one came at the perfect time for your players after such an emotionally draining tie?

‘It was a classic game, an epic, and the break was definitely needed, but I also think it’s appropriate to point out that we have won nothing. Yes, it was an important game and there was a lot of emotion at the end because we know how hard we worked to achieve it, but it means nothing if we go out at the next stage. We’re in it to win it.’

Going back to the Rosengard tie, were you happy to be drawn at home in the first leg?

‘Everything is about keeping clean sheets in Europe and being at home first means you get the chance to do that right from the off. We’re strong. We’ve made Kingsmeadow our home immediately, and that’s not easy to achieve when you go to a new ground. We feel confident there, so starting off at home really allows us to set the tone for the tie.

‘Everybody in the team understands their role and how to grind out a result. It’s not luck – we’ve earned that. We have to improve what we’re doing in possession, but that will come with each stage of our development as a team. You can’t have everything at once. Once we’re more played in at this level, we’ll get better with the football, but out of possession we showed that Bayern Munich struggled to break us down – and if they struggled, most teams in Europe will.’

- Click for ticket news for the first leg of Chelsea v Rosengard at Kingsmeadow on Wednesday 8 November