BY PAUL LAGAN
If young Harry, just a couple of months old, learns anything from his mother, it will be that preparation is key to success.
It’s Emma Hayes understanding of what’s needed and her strength of character not to be deflected from that path that propelled Chelsea Women to the WSL1 and FA Cup titles last season.
If anything the revamped squad will be even better prepared this term to repeat those feats and perhaps go even deeper, to the final of the Champions League. Last season, a humbling defeat to Wolfsburg at the semi-final stage highlighted the shortcomings of that side – that is something Hayes is desperate to avoid.
She said: “This squad has got more athletic potential, and more versatility. We are changing systems and part of that you have to be patient. You have to develop that, you can’t just arrive there.”
Getting all the players thinking along the same lines, that is as a whole and not as individuals is a management task that has been the undoing of many a head coach on the mens’ side.
But it’s something Hayes has central to her core philosophy.
“We need the collective,” she said. “That’s part of the reason why we have deepened the squad this year, so we have the quality to go even further. There will be plenty of opportunities for the entire squad. And being a team player is one of the pre-requisites to play as part of this squad.”
That veiled threat – that should anyone step out of line will be to their detriment – but at the same time offer them sufficient game minutes, is a delicate balancing act and one that has worked so far.
Hayes has ensured that the whole squad has had almost equal minutes on the pitch and she is using the Continental Tyres Cup as an extension of her pre-season. Next week they face London Bees in another group match, before their WSL 1 campaign starts with a tasty opener against Manchester City at home at Kingsmeadow.
Her charges won 3-1 against Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday in the ‘Conti Cup’.
Hayes, cradling Harry said afterwards of the sluggish performance: “It was hot and the grass was long.” But more revealing: “We are still four weeks into our pre-season.
“Yes it was a Continental Cup game game but I pushed the players hard this week in training and I’ve got to do that the whole season.
“If I started the pre-season training earlier, the players would not have got a break, so that’s why I say we are still in a pre-season phase. It’s reflected in the performance, but once again we have shown the quality we have got off the bench.”
A Drew Spence effort on the stroke of half time, followed by a Fran Kirby tap-in and a Beth England bullet header saw off Hope Powell’s dour Seagulls. Aileen Whelan notched up the breakaway effort for the visitors.
Hayes said of the test: “You have to respect the opponents are going to make it difficult – they are sitting in their half, they are blocking lines, looking to counter-attack. It’s not always easy to do that when you are home, so credit to my team for sticking with it to be honest.
“Hope Powell is renowned for being a defensive coach and is an exceptional one at that. I didn’t see anything I wasn’t prepared for. The game played out exactly how I’m thought it would.”
Hayes focusing on the collective rather than individuals skirted round Bethany England’s performance. The striker who was on loan at Liverpool last season will be an interesting player to keep an eye on.
“Bethany England like all the subs, came on and improved the performance. It’s a squad game,” he emphasised.
Trying out different players in differing team formations is something Hayes is hoping can be embedded into the squad, and so when a change is needed during the game, they are ready.
“Formation is a number, that you start with,” she said.
“You have to move fluidly within the flow of the game. And I think we showed against Brighton we can play out with a three and sometimes a four (at the back) and that flexibility is what is going to be required
“We need to be humble and honest and hard-working in what we are doing and make sure from game to game we find happiness and joy from what we are doing – we are getting there and moving in the right direction.”
The direction Hayes moved then was down the tunnel, with her infant in her arms. Time to focus on Harry and rightly so
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