Hayes: 'Farewell tour' does not motivate me – winning does

This is how every season culminates at Chelsea FC. Title clashes, knockout games and competition finals are their bread and butter.

Yet again, Emma Hayes’ side will be the busiest of any Women’s Super League club between now and May having negotiated a position where a historic quadruple is still on the cards.

When asked about the ‘Q’ word in an exclusive chat with Sky Sports at Chelsea’s Cobham training base, Hayes replies playfully: “boring”. She even elongated the ‘g’.

Good start, I think.

Friday 15th March 6:30pm

Kick off 7:00pm

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Check out the best goals from Chelsea vs Arsenal ahead of the big game on Sky Sports.

But there is something rather compelling about her response. Hayes is not a coach who likes to concern herself with ‘what ifs’. She is refreshingly straight-talking and, over her 12 years at Chelsea, has been asked the quadruple question more times than all other WSL managers combined.

That alone speaks to the Blues’ instatiable monopoly over domestic silverware in recent campaigns: “If you look back on the last five years we’ve been in nine of the last 10 available cup finals,” Hayes reasserts. Nothing if not consistent.

The 47-year-old, who is departing for a role with the US national team at the end of this campaign, likens the churn to Disney+ series The Bear. “There’s literally not a second to waste,” she says. And for anyone who has watched the uncomfortable relentlessness of The Bear, there are indeed similarities.

Intensity, exact attention to detail, precise roles and responsibilities and exhaustive duty – as well as the odd dressing-down or two – are all themes that have underpinned an unprecedented era of Hayes-shaped success at Chelsea.

This week’s challenge concerns a huge meeting with title rivals Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, live on Sky Sports, where the Gunners could draw level with Chelsea at the top with a win. By the end of Friday night, in fact, all three title contenders (which also includes Manchester City) could be tied on 37 points.

How best to approach, then? “For us, we’re so used to being in this situation that we don’t talk about it. We just do it,” Hayes continues. “We understand what it takes. There’s no emotion with it, it’s very business-like.

“It’s what you have to be. You can’t apportion energy to emotion, you have to preserve the energy as much as possible. We’ve got so much quality and depth, we can cope with these challenges.”

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Emma Hayes and Jonas Eidevall have been speaking about the rivalry and the respect they have for one another ahead of a huge title clash on Friday

Given the stakes, Chelsea could all but end Arsenal’s hopes of WSL glory this term by doing what they do best: winning. A six-point gap at this late stage would be too great to make up. But the Blues have concerns of their own – they are likely to be missing up to nine senior players with injury.

Chelsea injury concerns mount

Long-term absentees: Sam Kerr (ACL), Mia Fishel (ACL), Aniek Nouwen (ACL), Millie Bright (knee).

Also missing: Mayra Ramirez, Nathalie Bjorn, Maren Mjelde, Ann Katrin Berger.

Doubts vs Arsenal: Lauren James (illness), Fran Kirby (fatigue).

Asked if that worries her, Hayes replies: “We’ve lost some humungous players this season – Millie Bright and Sam Kerr have played together twice – yet we’re in a fabulous position. That should give the whole squad huge heart. To lose players of that calibre and others step up, for me, that’s the true mark of a great team.”

Hayes has overseen many great Chelsea ensembles down the years. Almost all have been successful – they are the league’s serial achievers. But mounting an affront on all four frontiers has taken its toll this term, prompting the question, is there now a need to prioritise?

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WSL expert Flo Lloyd-Hughes breaks down this season’s thrilling title race so far, ahead of Chelsea’s clash against Arsenal live on Sky Sports on Friday night

“Even though we’re really depleted right now, our spirit and confidence is high. If, at the heart of everything you do, you have resolve, you always give yourself a fighting chance and that’s a standard we’ve maintained.

“We have to make sure we can be relied on to produce a performance. That has been the big focus for the team this week – be reliable.”

Clearly, Hayes is all business. But as she enters Friday night’s bout with Arsenal, she will do so for the final time in the league at Stamford Bridge. The Blues compete in the Champions League at the club’s west London home, hosting Ajax later this month, but as far as WSL clashes go, Friday marks farewell.

Perhaps this was to be expected, but talk of huge processions and farewell tours is not comfortable ground for Hayes. The idea of this season acting as her long goodbye is, in her words, making her “wince”.

“It’s cringey for me, if I’m frank, this farewell stuff.

“I’m not someone who likes the attention on me – I’m the leader of the team. It’s making me wince. I want the ground to open up and swallow me.”

Back to the football, then. Chelsea have kept eight clean sheets in their last nine games in all competitions, only conceding to Khadija Shaw in 1-0 defeat against Manchester City in February.

They have never previously failed to finish top having taken 35 or more points from their first 15 games – their total currently stands at 37. So, what’s left in the tank for the all-important run-in?

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Highlights of the WSL match between Arsenal and Chelsea

“We’re on fumes,” Hayes says, somewhat frivolously. “When you’re in winning positions it gives you energy. We’ve had to adapt and we do that really well. We’re never stuck or rigid, if one way doesn’t work we won’t force it.”

Given this season’s journey, the setbacks, the injury woes and the ever-increasing demands, would a WSL title represent your biggest achievement yet? “Absolutely, 100 per cent,” Hayes replies without hesitation. “The team knows their manager is leaving and they’ve kept performing.

“Everyone says, ‘oh it’s an impossible job because the manager is going’, my players are showing it’s not impossible.

“I expect nothing less, and I’m delighted they are getting on with it despite the fact I’m going – that was my ideal scenario. Make me redundant, brilliant!”

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Arsenal head coach Jonas Eidevall says the motivation is already there for their trip to Stamford Bridge on Friday for the match against Chelsea in the WSL

Chelsea have little room for error as the campaign meanders towards its fascinating conclusion. Jeopardy aplenty, but also the chance for maximum reward. Hayes’ side are indeed the gold standard by which every future successful WSL side will be judged – and very few, if any, will match up.

Asked about settling an Arsenal score, having been on the wrong end of a 4-1 defeat the last time these two heavyweights met in December, Hayes simply replies: “I expect a different response this time – that I’m absolutely certain of.”

Watch Chelsea host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Friday, live on Sky Sports Football from 6.30pm; kick-off 7pm.

Key WSL fixtures

March 15: Chelsea vs Arsenal, kick-off 7pm, live on Sky Sports

March 23: Man City vs Man Utd, kick-off 12.30pm

May 5: Man City vs Arsenal, kick-off 1pm

May 18: Man Utd vs Chelsea, kick-off 3pm

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