Sunday afternoon Chelsea Women take on Manchester United for our maiden game of the 2020/21 Barclays FA Women’s Super League. Manager Emma Hayes is anticipating a great contest between the two sides but emphasises the importance in beginning the season well, and says the team’s ambition to succeed is ‘greater than ever’.

Chelsea go into this encounter in a good place having picked up the first available piece of silverware of this term after beating Manchester City 2-0 in the FA Community Shield at Wembley Stadium last Saturday.

Attention swiftly shifted to the Women’s Super League for Hayes and her side, though, and we sat down with the Chelsea boss ahead of the season start tomorrow….

Manchester United away is a tricky game for the start of your WSL defence…

‘I’ve learned over the years how important it is to start well. While you can’t lose the league in the first game of the season, you can certainly compromise your position.

‘When you come up against a team that’s well organised, well drilled, aggressive and direct, it is absolutely crucial you match them in these departments, in order to compete with this type of team. Talent alone will not shine; if you don’t put in the hard graft, with your sleeves rolled up, a team like Man United can turn you over.

‘It’s critical that everybody is prepared for the level of intensity within that game to increase tenfold on the back of last weekend.’

Read: Manchester United v Chelsea match preview

Last season’s two fixtures against Manchester United – one in the league, one in the Conti Cup semi-final – were probably the tightest we faced. There wasn’t an abundance of chances in either…

‘This is a team that defends the penalty box as good as the top teams in the country. That is what they do so well, they’re drilled. They’ve got a manager who was a centre-back and that is her strength. I’m certain that last season will give them huge confidence into their second year in the WSL.

‘But year two is a different year in any build – I know that. Just as it’s extremely different when you’re champions, as opposed to chasers. Champions have to chase even harder, they have to apply themselves even more. You’ve got a target on your back in every minute of every game.

‘It’s a position we want to be in, we accept everything that comes with it, but we have to demonstrate the behaviours of a champion in terms of consistent behaviours within games. That is crucial if you want to retain titles.’

No team has retained the WSL title since Liverpool won it back-to-back in 2013 and ’14. That shows what a different proposition it is to retain that trophy.

‘Yeah, especially with the quality coming into the league. But we want to retain that title, we want to break that ‘one and done’ title scenario. Our ambition is greater than ever, as is our intensity and togetherness. The demands I place on the squad this year will be, at times, excruciating. But I want to win more titles.’

And so do they. Come the end of the season, if they’ve got more medals around their necks, all that hard work seems like nothing. If it was easy, everyone could do it.

‘Winning requires everything. A commitment to win everything has to be greater than it has been before. That’s the expectation. But, as I always say, the expectation when you play for Chelsea is clear. You’re not just here purely to entertain, you are to win.’

You will entertain along the way, if the previous eight years of your reign has shown us anything. You’ve just added Pernille Harder to a squad that scored the most WSL goals last season!

‘We’ve added more goals, but I want the team to be even better defensively, too. If you want to win the biggest prizes, you have to defend for your life – and that’s as a collective. To play in this team, you have to value both sides of the ball in equal measure.’

Your defence is probably the most set it has ever been in your time at the club. The back four rarely changed last season, with Sophie Ingle protecting them in front.

‘I think you need stability in those areas, there needs to be consistency for them as a unit. But they have to perform – and they have performed. That’s why they’ve played consistently. When I talk about consistency, it’s not just the games, I’m talking about training as well. What they do day in, day out matters just as much as what they do in the games. You can’t just show up on gameday – not anymore, not at this level.

‘You have to produce performances every single day, and I think this unit has done that. It is consistently showing experience, maturity and a determination to improve. This is what the top players have.’

That determination to improve obviously comes, to a large degree, from within. But you play on that as well with the signings you make – every time you add another top player to the squad, the bar raises even higher. The quality in training every day does not allow for any dips…

‘The reality is there to see. I have a big squad to manage, it won’t be easy and there will be challenges for me and my staff, but the team comes first. The team’s goals are the most important things in our environment. Everybody has to contribute to that over the course of the season, and that means no matter what, whatever the team needs comes first.’

Interview by Richard Godden

To see the Blues’ full fixture list click here.