With many of the Chelsea Women squad about to embark on a quest for glory at the World Cup in France, we review the 2018/19 club season with manager Emma Hayes who talks us through a challenging campaign during which, despite a lack of silverware, the club took another huge stride towards establishing ourselves among Europe’s elite.
The Blues reached the last four of all three cup competitions we entered, as well as finishing third in the league, and a place in our first-ever Women’s Champions League final was within touching distance when we pushed Lyon all the way at Kingsmeadow.
We sat down with Hayes at the end of the campaign to find out what she made of it all and to highlight some of the key moments.
What was the story of our season?
It was a nearly season. The team has improved, which is the biggest irony. We’ve got better in the way we pass the ball and fashion chances, and collectively we defend better. Sometimes it pays to be lucky rather than good! In saying that, I think we have to improve in the finishing phase. We’ve scored over 100 goals again, but in terms of scoring in the key games, we didn’t get them. That’s what it comes down to.
You don’t get extra points for beating Yeovil 8-0. It’s something I have to rectify in the off-season, in terms of preparation, and then in pre-season. It’s always about improving the players you’ve got; we’ve got to get better at how we do that. There are no excuses. There’s an inevitable period of reflection when you don’t win anything, but we don’t have to panic about it. We just have to get the details right and make sure we get the start of the season right. It was all about the start we made.
We can’t do that again – that’s a fact. There aren’t enough games in a league season to allow you a start like that.
For the first time in a few years there was a third name in the title mix, too, as Arsenal stepped up and eventually emerged as champions.
It’s all to do with Arsenal finally coming to the table. There’s been a lot of years without them doing that and that’s something they’ve worked hard at to get right. They’re fully deserving of it. I’ve always said it’s not going to be easy for clubs to retain this title, because of the quality each team possesses. It’s getting even harder. Liverpool were the last team to do it.
I’m certainly keen to do away with the Continental Cup and have more league games. We had seven matches in the competition this season – turn them into league games. That’s my thought. As we fight to get an identity for the league, you want a regular weekly spot. I think the number of competitions we have confuses the public and it’s something I hope we can look at with the league going forward. That will improve the league even further.
What was the best performance of the season?
Lyon at home. To do it against the best team in Europe, sometimes it takes a bit of time, but I wish as a collective we’d have believed a little bit sooner – I think we’d have been in the final. That applies to the away leg, when I put out an attacking side and really went for it. I surprised a lot of people, including some of my own staff, but I’ve done this long enough now to know how to go at it. I believe we made the right decisions; we’re talking about a penalty [not given] and a shot against the post in the second leg. That was the difference.
Pick a standout moment from the season.
Maren Mjelde's goal to send us through against Paris Saint-Germain – especially because of what she'd been through, how much she'd suffered. The team missed her so much when she was out. We missed her presence, her qualities on the pitch. She's an outstanding player. It was such a complex and frustrating injury, which required time and patience to heal. In a World Cup year. She did well.
Hypothetically, we’re giving you a Goal of the Season trophy. Who gets it?
Do you know what, Maren's against PSG is obviously up there, but for me it's Erin's header against Arsenal. I loved that goal. The way she got up above that giant [Louise Quinn] – it was immense. That's Erin. I loved Maren's for what it meant and I also enjoyed Magda Eriksson's overhead kick against Liverpool, which was a nice goal and not one you see too often.
And the Save of the Season?
Hedvig made a great save in our draw at Man City in the league, when we came from behind to get a point. She pushed a shot from Nikita Parris onto the post and it was a brilliant save. It was an emotional time at the Reading game when she played her final game for the club.
The amount of fans who were there to serenade Viggy as she got off the bus was unreal. When she first joined the club in 2014, we may have been lucky to get that many fans to attend a game, let alone waiting for the bus an hour-and-a-half before kick-off!
She’s a Chelsea Women’s legend, and she’s deserving of that. It sums up that whole dynamic and the appreciation the fans have for the players. It really was a lovely gesture.
How about the team’s biggest achievement?
I think the team has evolved tactically and that evolution means we've got a lot more strings to our bow. We can play in a number of different ways, using different personnel within that, and that strength will help us as we continue to progress. Some teams can't adapt at all – we can. That's a credit to the players and their tactical curiosity and ability to transfer information quite quickly.
Can we highlight another success – the growth of the fanbase and the level of their support.
Yes, that has to be a success. There is a growing number of fans travelling to support the team and it's phenomenal. I couldn't believe how many of them were with us in Yeovil for a midweek game at the end of the season. Durham too. There's a lot of mutual love – they appreciate the team, but they know how much we appreciate them as well. There is a genuine camaraderie between us and them, which you can see every other week at Kingsmeadow.
Look, you can't always win. All fans really want to know is that you've given it your all – and I think they know we've done that this season. We just fell short. But not through lack of effort, and I can say that the Champions League games, particularly against Lyon, have given the side a huge amount of belief. Everyone recognises and has a deeper belief in our qualities. We just have to start better.
That start killed you, didn't it?
On one level, from October it was a fantastic run, post-Arsenal. We were superb, but we knew we could not afford even one slip up. Sometimes panic can come into performances, because you're stressing. That's one of the hardest things to manage. We'll be back, though. I'll get the team ready, for sure.
2018/19 CHELSEA WOMEN STATISTICS
Eriksson 34+1, Cuthbert 32+4, Andersson 29+3, Bright 28+1, Ingle 28+1, Spence 27+6, Carney 27+2, Ji 26+4, England 24+11, Kirby 22+11, Blundell 22+7, Bachmann 19+12, Carter 16+8, Mjelde 15+1, Lindahl 14, Telford 14, Engman 9+13, Berger 8, Riley 7+10, Cooper 7+5, Thorisdottir 7+3, Asante 6+1, Bailey 5+2, Durack 3
England 22, Kirby 18 (3 pens), Cuthbert 13, Spence 11, Ji 9, Bachmann 6, Engman 5, Blundell 4, Carney 3 (1 pen), Bright 2, Eriksson 2, Mjelde 2, Riley 2, Andersson 1, Asante 1, Cooper 1, Thorisdottir 1, own goal 1
Telford 10, Lindahl 9, Berger 4, Durack 3
Carney 26, Bright 8, Spence 3, Eriksson 1, Lindahl 1