Chelsea FC Women face Manchester United in the Continental Tyres League Cup semi-final tomorrow evening and boss Emma Hayes believes the Blues will be in for a tough encounter.
Chelsea go into the fixture unbeaten so far in 2022 as we look to progress to the final of this year’s Conti Cup.
The Blues will be looking to retain the trophy for the third consecutive year after beating Bristol City in 2021 and Arsenal in 2020.
Speaking to the media at Cobham this afternoon, Hayes said: ‘It’s an exciting time! We’re at home, we love playing in front of our fans.
‘I’ve really enjoyed the development of different players in this period. We’ve been missing a lot of our very experienced players but it’s been so brilliant to watch so many of our younger players step up and develop. We know that has to happen because you never have the same 11 at any point in the season but what’s become clear is that our depth has been absolutely brilliant in this period.
‘This is a competition that has been really good for us the last couple of years. We’re in front of our home fans, yes we’ve got a small squad but it hasn’t been any different this side of January. The block has been tough, but I know for sure this group of players will give everything they’ve got tomorrow night.’
Hayes provided a team news update, revealing striker Sam Kerr has landed back in the UK after competing in the Asia Cup with Australia.
‘Sam’s back! She just got off a plane this morning so that’s going to be really, really difficult. We’ve got a bit of sickness, not Covid related. I don’t know what the squad will be tomorrow; it could be 15, it could be 13 players.
‘The reality is we played three games in six days and some players haven’t been back on the grass today because they haven’t fully recovered. We’re going to give them the maximum amount of time tomorrow to do that.
‘I don’t think Beth [England] will be back, Magda [Eriksson] won’t be back in this block either, no Maren [Mjelde]. But I’m so happy with the group, they’ve done so well! I don’t battle against the things I can’t control.’
Hayes also provided a fitness update on Lauren James, the former Manchester United forward.
‘This is the best she’s been all-round since she’s come to the club, in terms of her whole well-being and health. When you’ve been out the length of time she has and not played the minutes she’s had over the last three years, we’re taking it slowly with integrating her back into that. Unfortunately she was out of training today because she’s had a cold.’
Hayes has been full of praise for the Blues fans in recent weeks and is excited to welcome them to Kingsmeadow tomorrow evening.
‘They’re so good to me, they are. I’ve loved the relationship that not just I’ve had with them but the team’s had with them. When you’ve had to play in Covid times, it’s been so quiet and I’ve been the noisiest so to have them, I can hear them all the time!
On returning to Kingsmeadow for the first time in 2022 last week against West Ham United, Hayes surprised fans by gifting them treats before the game.
‘I just had to sugar them up the other night, just to help the team get over the line and they were tremendous as they always are.’
Hayes is well aware of the threats Marc Skinner’s Manchester United will pose.
‘I’ve enjoyed watching them all year, even when they weren’t getting the results in the earliest part. They’ve got a tremendous group of young players that are coming together, they’re confident, they’re aggressive in everything they do. I think their style has changed slightly over the season in terms of they play with a lot more width than they did in the first part.
‘They’re certainly showing their qualities not just going forward but defensively I think they’ve been rock solid. We know it’s a tough game, we know this could go the distance. You’ve got extra time and penalties, we totally know that. We watched the game last week against Arsenal so there’s nothing there that’s going to surprise us. It’s just we know it’s going to be two good teams competing for a place in the final.’
Tomorrow’s game kicks off at 7pm (UK time) and will be available to watch on BBC Red Button and the FA Player. We will also be hosting live coverage from King