On Sunday Chelsea FC Women moved into first place in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League following a 2-1 triumph over fellow title contenders Manchester United and manager Emma Hayes hailed her team’s performance.
The Blues deservedly came out on top in what was an entertaining top-of-the-table clash against Manchester United thanks to goals from Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby.
On half-hour, the Denmark international Harder broke the deadlock as she poked the ball past Mary Earps in goal following a penalty-box scramble, and while the Red Devils’ substitute Lauren James levelled terms at Kingsmeadow, it was our No.14 who sent us into the lead once again with a cool finish.
Reflecting upon the game post-match, Hayes was delighted with the mentality and spirit from her players to came back from behind against a quality United side.
‘We should have been out of sight at half-time with the chances we created,’ said the Chelsea boss. ‘Our game-plan worked, the players executed what I asked of them and because there is so much quality in both teams, it became a bit transitional.
‘It’s important against a Man Utd team to stop the transitions because they have exceptional players that can hurt you.
‘I was disappointed at 1-1 because even though they were coming back into the game, it shouldn’t have been 1-1. So to recover from the set back and we did it away at Arsenal as well, is a sign of a great team.
‘The team don’t get caught up in disappointments that happen in the moment and Fran came into the game in the last 30 minutes with a wonderful strike – I think we’re deserving winners.’
While Hayes was pleased with the application from the whole team, she reserved special praise for her captain Magdalena Eriksson, who was once again leading by example from the back-line.
‘You want your leader to mirror you and she mirrors me in exactly the ways I want her to.’ Hayes explained. ‘We are side by side, we are together along with Millie.
‘I have a leadership there, plus the experience in the group that carries us this far. I have huge respect for Magda, she will go on and be a wonderful manager in her career too, so I often coach her with that in mind.
‘I’ll often share with her how to handle situations so she is ready when she’s in my shoes – I have no doubt in my mind that Magda Eriksson will be a future Chelsea manager.’
Other players that the Blues manager took the time to commend were midfielders Erin Cuthbert and Melanie Leupolz, who both commanded the midfield exceptionally well yesterday.
‘It starts with the captain but was also all about the unsung heroes like Melly and Erin, it really was a team effort.
‘Erin had a job to do and she did exactly what I asked her to do in the letter of the law,’ Hayes said. ‘You just don’t find players like Erin Cuthbert anymore and for a player of her age to do what she does and do it with the intensity and application, she’s a dream.
‘But I also for the subs that came into the game, we ask certain jobs of them as well and there’s an upturn in our performances because everybody is contributing on another level.’
Sunday’s result saw the Blues equal the record of the longest unbeaten run in the Women’s Super League of 31 games. While Hayes is proud of the magnificent achievement, her sights are firmly set on ensuring we clinch more silverware.
‘When you consider the quality we have to face in our league, that is an unbelievable record and when I started at this club I always wanted to be the dominant force in the women’s game, growing up knowing what Arsenal were.
‘So to think Chelsea and what we’ve achieved in my time here and can still continue to achieve, it gets harder and harder and you are constantly playing with a target on your back.
‘No team has retained the title in the modern day WSL, you realise how hard this is. This is extremely difficult so to go unbeaten for two years is an unbelievable achievement but it’s not a trophy.
‘It’s not about what you have, it’s about what you haven’t got yet and we haven’t got a Champions League and we haven’t got successive Conti Cup.
‘This team has a lot of things to achieve yet so I don’t get carried away with records like that to be honest,’ Hayes continued.
There is another big game on Wednesday as Hayes and her squad travel to Manchester City to fight for a semi-final spot in the Continental League Cup and the manager is expecting another difficult encounter.
‘Man City had a wonderful result against Aston Villa and there is an upturn in their performances and results,’ she noted.
‘They are a team that are recovered and bounced back from their early set backs and they will be a threat throughout.
‘It’s a quarter-final, I don’t think we’ll ever play each other in a final, it’s never happened in nine years I’ve been here, we always get each other at this stage.
‘We are away from home and we’ve never won up there, that’s how tricky it is at that place so we’ve got to just recover quickly and get ready for that.’
Manchester City v Chelsea kicks off at 5.30pm and it can be watched live on the FA Player.