Emma Hayes was proud of the way her Chelsea Women side overcame a tricky start in Lyon to play with confidence, maturity and an impressive defensive resilience.
The head coach admitted the Blues began the first leg of our Women’s Champions League quarter-final tie against the holders nervously, but having had a chance to get them together during a break in play early on, she watched as we asserted our authority on proceedings and took the lead through Guro Reiten’s seventh goal of the season.
There were even chances to extend that advantage, while at the other end we restricted Lyon to two on-target efforts all night, despite losing Millie Bright to injury before half-time. Hayes confirmed the defender will have a scan tomorrow to discover the extent of the problem.
Reflecting on the result and the performance, Hayes began with the defensive application her team displayed.
‘A 1-0 win at the home of the reigning champions to take into the second leg, I can't ask for any more,’ she said.
‘It was a good game. We showed some of the grit that we have been lacking a little. We were really compact and defended well.
‘We had one day's prep. I thought the players executed the defensive game plan. On the ball, we have to be a little bit better, but that's something we'll work on before the game at Stamford Bridge.’
Hayes explained what she said to her players after that shaky start
‘Luckily, I got the opportunity to settle them down. I was frustrated. We weren’t doing things I wanted us to do. I just reminded them to do those things. The way we scored the goal was exactly what we’d worked on, even though there was a second phase Erin won.
‘It will give the team a lot of confidence. We looked nervous the first 15 minutes. Sometimes nerves manifest in looking like you’re plodding around. I could see a lack of movement.
‘But once we settled, we grew into the game. We got more and more confident. The result, and keeping a clean sheet, will give the team that confidence.
‘We have massive respect for them. To win 1-0, I’m satisfied, but we know it’s only half-time and there’s things to improve on.’
The return leg at Stamford Bridge is next Thursday 30 March and tickets, starting at just £9 for adults and £1 for juniors and seniors, are available now.
Cuthbert, returning after injury, brilliantly set up Reiten to score the only goal
‘Erin hasn’t played since the Continental Cup final, and she’s only been back in training since Monday with the team.
‘I didn’t really know how her legs would be, but we all know she has the heart of a lion, and she delivered the job we were looking for. I’m used to seeing that from Erin, and putting Guro in that position.
‘As I said to Guro, what a fabulous right foot you’ve got, maybe you could use it a little more often!
‘Erin is okay,’ added Hayes having taken the Scot off.
‘There’s nothing wrong with her. She hasn’t played, and I knew we could play Guro in that position. It was a physical decision.’
Hayes went into detail on the defensive progress she has seen since the Conti Cup final loss to Arsenal
‘We’ve been working in the last few games to really get back to our core. We pride ourselves in defending a certain way. Sometimes when you try and be a bit more expansive you end up conceding a little bit more. You can’t have it both ways.
‘The personnel we have is better suited to being really compact. The Manchester United performance and tonight is more in line with who we are. I feel confident we have the players that can be better going forward, but I don’t want to underestimate how hard it is coming here in the quarter-finals. It’s intimidating, and we managed that really well.
‘I’ve come to expect that maturity. I spoke to the team before the game about pressure situations. They’re moments that reveal your character, your wisdom, your experience. This is a pressure situation and the team delivered those characteristics under pressure.
‘I also believe if you build consistency in your habits every day, every game is a Champions League game. We’ve become accustomed to the competition, and we have played with a wise head tonight.’