Emma Hayes: ‘I expect a performance that is worthy of this badge’

Emma Hayes spoke to the media on Thursday afternoon to preview Friday’s monumental Barclays Women’s Super League clash between Chelsea and Arsenal, which could have huge implications for the title race. Amid a busy March schedule and days before a vital UEFA Women’s Champions League game at Ajax, Hayes will be hoping for revenge after a 4-1 loss in the reverse fixture.

First of all, she confirmed that Chelsea’s already long injury list has got even worse, as for Friday’s game there will be no Mayra Ramírez or Nathalie Björn, potentially no Fran Kirby, and Lauren James has been sick this week – alongside their list of pre-existing long-term injuries that will make this busy run of fixtures even tougher for a depleted Chelsea squad. 

With more than 30,000 tickets having been sold for Friday night’s game, it promises to be an electric atmosphere in a title six-pointer, and Hayes spoke of how excited she is to yet again me involved in a game of such magnitude in front of so many fans. 

‘I’m always excited about the growth around the game itself, I’m looking forward to a packed crowd. I’ll be brutally honest and say I hope that we capitalise on that, that’s something our rivals Arsenal have done really well off the pitch.’

‘Jonas [Eidevall] and I have played against each other plenty of times and I’ll miss these games for sure, I enjoy them. I always enjoy my time with Jonas – not during the game, of course we’re rivals, but I’m looking forward to the game.’

‘All of our focus is on tomorrow and it has been since the weekend. I can accept losing; how you lose is another matter, and the players are aware of that so when it comes to the expectations from a performance perspective, the players absolutely know what you have to do when you play for this football club, and as long as the performance is there, I can semi live with it.’

With Chelsea’s packed March schedule, the physical impact on her squad is already apparent and widely publicised. However, this is also a time that Hayes believes will show the mental strength that her squad possess and how proud she is of that fact. 

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‘I’m pretty certain if you took some of the key players lost out of our team out of others, you’d realise our team is doing a tremendous job. I think our team does really well in adverse situations, we’re resilient. I really appreciate in our team that whatever eleven I put out, players will come up to me who aren’t in the starting eleven and say that “you can count on me coach.” For me, that shows an awful lot about the characters we have.’

A busy month for Chelsea ends with another fixture against Arsenal, in the Conti Cup final on 31st March. I asked Hayes whether such a quick turnaround between fixtures will play any role in the preparation for this game.

‘Absolutely not – as then we got to Ajax, then we play West Ham, then we play Ajax, then we play Arsenal, it’s so far away it’s the last thing on my mind. It’s all about tomorrow night, like I said before I have zero focus on the opponent, not because I don’t respect them, but because for the players we have out, I want a thousand percent. I want the crowd to be a big factor for us tomorrow, and I expect a performance that is worthy of this badge.’

After such a one-sided Arsenal win in the reverse fixture in December, Hayes was asked how her side have learnt from that game and how it is that she reacts to losses like that. 

‘it can feel a little easier to learn a lot more from the losses, but I like to have same rigour in the wins too, that’s why I believe in processes because if you do things out of emotional responses then you aren’t thorough. Could I tell in the first few minutes at Arsenal that it was going to be a long day? One thousand percent. Is that tactically related? Definetly not, because intensity and intention are controllable. No question one day one team might have an advance over the other because they dominate those things better than the opponent. My job as a coach is to ensure we get those things right.’

Chelsea host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Friday night in the Barclays Women’s Super League, with the game kicking-off at 19:00 GMT live on Sky Sports