Chelsea FC Women began our Champions League campaign with a 5-0 victory over Benfica in the first leg of the round of 32 tie yesterday and manager Emma Hayes was delighted with the team’s performance in Portugal.
The Blues produced an outstanding performance against the Portuguese champions Benfica, and found the net five times courtesy of Millie Bright, Pernille Harder, Bethany England and a brace from Fran Kirby. Hayes reflected on our first European outing of the season and outlined plenty of positives.
‘I was happy with the start of the game, taking an early lead was good,' Hayes said.
‘Once we settled into the game we produced a good performance in the first half, we got the fifth goal in the second half and then I made some changes and I thought that disrupted the rhythm a little bit.
‘It’s important for my young players like Jessie [Fleming], Erin [Cuthbert] and Niamh [Charles] to get these sort of exposures because the positional play stuff that they need to develop – this is an opportunity for us to see how they are progressing with that and I was happy for them and the rest of the bench.
‘I’m happy with a clean sheet and happy to get our Champions League going again. I love this competition and I have worked hard with my staff and club to build a team so that we can hopefully keep progressing to the latter stages and I won’t make excuses, we’re going to have to really push if we’re going to break into that last part.’
After Kirby opened the scoring inside two minutes, she became Chelsea Women’s all-time leading goalscorer, and Hayes expressed her delight for the forward.
‘I think every day is a precious day and taking things one day at a time is helping Fran. In normal circumstances I’d leave her on the pitch to get a hat-trick but like I said I’ve got to play with five games in mind and she’s such a big team player she’ll do whatever needed to get the result.
‘I think that’s one of the reasons why so much is going for her because of the contributions she’s making as a whole. It’s not a surprise to me.
‘I manage a lot of good players and as you can well imagine on a daily basis this group will drive each other on to keep improving.
‘She knows what I think about her and she knows with the performances she keeps putting in that the awards will come for her whatever they are.
‘We have a tendency to build players up and then put them under excruciating pressure and at the same time we kick them when they are on their way down, but I think the important thing to say about Fran is that we’re at a nice level place and that’s where we’re going to remain,’ Hayes added.
Another player marked an impressive milestone yesterday and that was captain Magdalena Eriksson who made her 100th appearance for the club.
‘Wow, 100 appearances,’ said the Chelsea boss. ‘She’s a born winner and this is something her and I have worked towards to get back into this competition. She’s a really strong leader for this football club and I’m delighted for her.’
The Blues are in a great position going into the second leg of this round of 32 tie which takes place at Kingsmeadow on Wednesday 16 December with a 7pm kick-off.
Hayes has outlined what she expects from Benfica next week but first the Chelsea boss must prepare her side for our away Women’s Super League match against Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday.
‘We’ve got to approach Sunday first, we have got to get ready for Brighton and I was fortunate enough to make some changes with Sunday in mind.
‘I think they [Benfica] will learn a lot from this type of performance so I’m expecting a completely different game in the second leg and that’s something I have to be prepared for.
‘I didn’t think we had a lot of games in the first half of the season and we had some frustrated players who wanted more game time which is totally understandable.
‘I’ve said all along that we’ve built a team to cope with the demands of the season. I don’t know how many top teams would make five subs after half-time regardless of the scoreline, but it shows the value I have for the entire dressing room.
‘I think everybody will be involved in the next two weeks and that’s what we’ve created deliberately,’ Hayes continued.