Emma Hayes: ‘Whatever it took for us to win last year, it certainly must be more than that this year’

March looks to be a crucial month for Emma Hayes’ Chelsea side. Coming back from an international break with the cloud of a disappointing home loss to Manchester City looming, Chelsea will be fighting on four fronts in March, with the Barclays Women’s Super League, Adobe Women’s FA Cup, Conti Cup, and most importantly, UEFA Women’s Champions League quarterfinal fixtures against Ajax.

Hayes spoke to the media on Friday afternoon ahead of their WSL clash away to Leicester City, a side they beat 5-2 in the reverse fixture in October. 

Firstly, Hayes made it clear that she hasn’t allowed the recent loss to their title rivals to impact her or her squad negatively – and will instead be looking to move on from it. 

‘Everyone gets beaten, it’s about the learnings you take from them. It was a game where there wasn’t much in it. Whatever it took for us to win last year, it certainly must be more than that this year, that’s clear to me, but everyone is back in and I’m not one to stew over anything.’

With that loss allowing Manchester City to close gap to the current title holders in the league, and with the two sides now only separated by goals scored, Hayes was asked whether she prefers these close title races compared to just running away with the league. 

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‘I don’t put too much thought into it, maybe because I’ve done it so many times. Every year I have been here it has gone to the last game of the season, so I’m prepared for that. We’ve been in first position before, we’ve been in second position before, it’s not important. What’s important is that we focus on what it takes to win now, not last year, not the year before, and that the things that are in our control are the things we focus on.’

Over the international break, news broke that summer signing Mia Fishel had suffered an ACL injury during training with the United Stated, and Hayes spoke on her feelings towards the situation.

‘I’m devastated for her, I’ve spoken numerous times about the challenges of players and travelling and loading and everything that comes with that. Injuries are going to happen in football, and when it comes to that injury, I keep getting asked the same questions. I don’t think that we’re going to have all the answers for it, but once again a major injury within the nine days of an international break transition, so no surprise to me, but one I would like to see a big piece of research on.’

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Moving on to this weekend’s opposition, Hayes was very complimentary of Willie Kirk’s side. She did however make a point of mentioning their record of fouls in the league this season, but spoke fondly of their new signings Saori Takarada and Yuka Momiki. 

‘They commit the most amount of fouls in the league, this is a team that will disrupt you in any 50/50. You get away and escape the pressure? They’ll foul, so I hope the officials are switched onto a game that will be disturbed by that momentum. I think Willie’s done a really good job in the quality he’s adding to it, and I think Leicester will be a team on the rise and when you go there every team knows that they are going to get a difficult game.’

‘I love watching Momiki play, she’s a fabulous player. I’ve made no secret over the years that I love Japanese players and I love watching Japan play so to see more come to our league is an unbelievable addition. I think they bring different qualities to Leicester; their technical qualities will give them even more and we can see that already, and I look forward to playing them this weekend.’

Chelsea travel to Leicester this Sunday in their first fixture following the international break, with kick-off at the King Power Stadium scheduled for 6pm GMT.