The Blues attempt at reaching the Women’s Champions League final for the first time in Chelsea history came to an end in gutting circumstances at the semi-final stage, finishing 1-1 at Kingsmeadow and 3-2 to Lyon on aggregate. Emma Hayes reflects on her team’s performance…
Emma Hayes was understandably very disappointed her side did not manage to get a win, which she felt was deserved after a dominating performance against reigning European champions Lyon yesterday, in front of a record crowd of 4,670 at Kingsmeadow. On the other hand, she is extremely proud of her players' efforts.
Lyon went into the second leg 2-1 ahead on aggregate, due to two defensive mistakes on our part in France. Similarly to the away leg, yesterday we found ourselves trailing early on in the game due to an unfortunate deflection off of Blues defender Maren Mjelde.
However, it did not take long for us to level the scoring after the referee awarded a free-kick when Erin Cuthbert’s heels were clipped just outside of the box. Ji So-Yun stepped up to take the set-piece and she made no mistake when she lifted her shot over the wall which sailed into the top corner of the net.
Hayes feels that throughout both legs of the semi-final, her side were the better team overall and believes we deserve to be in the final this year.
‘My feelings are exactly what you'd imagine they'd be. It's probably the story of the team's season. I absolutely feel we have improved, but unfortunately we've been too much of a “nearly team” this year.
Cuthbert has played a huge part in our Champions league journey and domestically this season, Hayes commented on her contribution to the side.
‘What a player. What a person. She's a fantastic person who gives her all, day in, day out. She's growing in stature every day. She's great on the training pitch, a great tactical player who can play in multiple positions.’
After the break, the Blues continued to knock on Lyon’s door and pushed the holders all the way, but Hayes’ side ran out of time to find a second goal to take it to extra-time.
‘We've gone toe to toe with the champions of Europe, frightened the life out of them, and we deserve to be in the final. But it's not about that, it's about goals – they win you games or they lose you games. Their column is greater than ours.
‘The better team has lost. If Kaz Carney's shot went in off the inside of the post or Drew finished her chance, there's no way they'd have recovered in extra-time. They were gone. You just need it to go in!’
Once the full-time whistle blew, the Blues players looked understandably heart broken. Hayes explained what she said to the players.
‘You've just gone toe to toe with Lyon. You've made them look average. Lyon's seven-year dominance, in my opinion, is massively threatened and the rest of Europe has come alive,’ she said.
‘It's the start of a new era in the women's game. I'm proud of my players today. They've done the fans proud, and the club. I'm not sure they could have given anything else. They're exhausted, mentally and physically. We just didn't quite get that rub of the green when we needed it.’
The Chelsea Women manager expressed her love for the Blues faithful and thanked them for supporting her side and bringing the best out of them.
‘We've got the best fans in the world. I love them, they're amazing. They've brought an atmosphere to women's football that I've never seen before in this country.
‘But they know the team are fighting for the shirt. When you support a football club and you know your players are putting absolutely everything into it, you will come and pay to watch that.’
As we have bowed out of three cup competitions at the semi-final stage, this season will end without a trophy for the first time in three years and we will not qualify for Champions League football next season due to not finishing in the top two of the WSL. Hayes insists that her Chelsea Women side will continue improving to be classed as a top team within Europe.
‘I'm gutted we don't have a trophy – that's not through a lack of effort or care or quality. It's just been a season where we've been a little bit away from everything.
‘That's what I'm going to have to reflect on in the off-season. Making sure we become clinical again, at both ends.
‘Our players are becoming big names across Europe for what they do for the football club and I think every single one of them can hold their head up, even though they're absolutely distraught.
‘This isn't the end of the world. We've got a great opportunity to keep building upon the good work we're doing. That doesn't mean you're going to win trophies every season, but we were that close to being in the final. I couldn't have said that 12 months ago.’