Emma Hayes does not believe her trophy-laden Chelsea reign should be defined by whether she can end the club’s wait for a maiden Women’s Champions League crown.

Blues boss Hayes is set to end a successful 12-year tenure in the summer to become head coach of the United States women’s team.

The 47-year-old has won six Women’s Super League titles and lifted the FA Cup five times during her time in charge but continental glory has proved elusive.

Chelsea are on course to reach the semi-finals in Europe in Hayes’ swansong season, having built a 3-0 aggregate lead going into Wednesday evening’s quarter-final second leg at home to Ajax.

“Of course, if I was able to win the Champions League in my time here I’m sure it would be another unbelievable achievement,” she said.

“But for my era to be defined by one competition is probably not what matters most to me.

“What matters most – beyond the winning over the years – is that I will leave the shirt in a better place.

“That’s probably the thing I’m most invested in – to make sure that when I leave, the team is in a fabulous place and certainly in a better place than when I took over and where I can come back as a fan and enjoy them hopefully in many more Champions League (campaigns).”

Chelsea came close to Champions League glory in 2021 before suffering an emphatic 4-0 defeat to Barcelona in the final.

The Blues are poised for a potential semi-final rematch with reigning champions Barca this term.

Yet, despite last week building a commanding first-leg lead in Amsterdam, Hayes insists it would be a “mistake” to overlook an Ajax team with little to lose.

“The fear of losing or the fear of not being in that semi-final is, for us, as big a drive as it is the desire to win it, in fact it’s more,” said Hayes.

“There is no-one in our dressing room that will take tomorrow’s game lightly or think for one minute just because we’re winning 3-0 that the game is over. That is a mistake.

“It all starts in your head, in your mind.

“And, when a team has nothing to lose, they play with freedom and in a different way to express themselves and they are often the most dangerous opponents so, for sure, we don’t take tomorrow lightly.”

Chelsea’s midweek appointment at Stamford Bridge comes four days before the Continental Tyres League Cup final against Arsenal at Molineux.

Preparations for the Gunners – the only English club to have won the Champions League following success in 2007 – remain on the back-burner.

“We only play one game at a time; I’m not thinking about Sunday,” said Hayes.

“I’m thinking about tomorrow. We know Ajax are going to come out and be aggressive. We’re expecting that.

“Only one team advances, so we’re prepared for the aggression from the opponent.

“They’re a good side and it’s important for us to keep all of our focus and attention on tomorrow.”

What the papers say

Arsenal and Chelsea are set to battle it out for 20-year-old Sporting defender Ousmane Diomande. According to The Sun, Arsenal have matched their London rival’s £51million plus bonuses offer to lure the Ivory Coast international from Lisbon.

Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi is attracting interest from Bayern Munich among other clubs for his work at the Seagulls. But the Daily Mirror reports the Italian coach is in no rush to decide on his future.

Everton’s England Under-17s goalkeeper Douglas Lukjanciks is attracting attention across Europe. The Daily Mail reports Bayer Leverkusen are among the clubs interested in the 16-year-old.

Promising Nigerian striker Hafiz Umar Ibrahim is set for a trial at Chelsea, thanks to a little help. Raheem Sterling played a key role in linking the 18-year-old with Stamford Bridge, according to the Evening Standard.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Timo Werner: Tottenham are keen on making the 28-year-old RB Leipzig and Germany forward’s loan deal permanent, but are in no rush to trigger a £14.5million option to buy, according to Four Four Two.

Federico Chiesa: Liverpool and Manchester United want to sign the Italy forward, 26, from Juventus, reports Teamtalk,

Chelsea returned to the top of the Women’s Super League with a controversial 2-0 win over second-bottom West Ham.

Aggie Beever-Jones’ second-minute strike put the visitors’ in control but West Ham should have been level through Honoka Hayashi only for the equaliser to be ruled out for offside.

Replays suggested the goal should have stood but without VAR there was no opportunity to overturn the decision and Erin Cuthbert’s 88th-minute effort saw Chelsea reclaim top spot, level on points with Manchester City but with a goal difference two superior.

Liverpool’s winless streak against neighbours Everton was extended to a fifth league game after a goalless draw at Goodison Park, although the point moved them above Manchester United into fourth.

Beth England’s first league goal of the season saw Tottenham beat bottom side Bristol City 1-0 to move within four points of Liverpool.

The 29-year-old striker, who has struggled with injury, struck in only the second minute to increase Bristol City’s woes as they are now six points adrift with top-three sides Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal still to play in their remaining five matches.

Elisabeth Terland volleyed a fine winner five minutes from time as Brighton edged a five-goal thriller with Leicester.

Lena Petermann had equalised moments earlier for the hosts, who had opened the scoring through Jutta Rantala only for Madison Haley and Katie Robinson to turn things around for Brighton before the late drama.

Chelsea stand on the brink of an “irreversible toxicity” from the fanbase over concerns for the direction of the club, according to the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust.

Despite progress in the cups, Blues boss Mauricio Pochettino has overseen an underwhelming Premier League campaign since arriving at Stamford Bridge last summer.

Chelsea were branded “blue billion-pound bottle jobs” by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville late on during their 1-0 extra-time defeat against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final last month.

Although Pochettino has since guided Chelsea back to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final with holders Manchester City in April, questions remain over the long-term vision under co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali in the post-Roman Abramovich era.

The CST wrote to Boehly and Eghbali earlier this month, highlighting how the current lack of engagement or communication by the club has led to an “overwhelming sense of helplessness, frustration and deep concern” among fans.

This, the CST said, had left Chelsea “close to, if not already experiencing, a significant shift in supporter opinion that could result in irreversible toxicity, almost irrespective of results on the pitch”.

During the recent 2-2 draw against Brentford at Stamford Bridge, the CST noted several “anti-ownership chants” could be heard, adding recent dialogue with supporters revealed “a widespread and significant lack of belief in the decision-makers at the top of our club”.

The rising cost of ticket prices, coach travel as well as food and drink in general admission areas was also addressed in the wide-ranging letter from the CST, which called for a “supporter communication strategy” that works for both the club and fans.

In a response from chief executive Chris Jurasek, Chelsea said the club deeply valued “the dedication, commitment and desire from all our supporters” and “strives to be the most successful and admired” in the world – both on and off the pitch.

It added the club was committed to “clear lines of communication and a significant level of transparency”, pointing to the established of the Fan Advisory Board, as well as recognising the concern over rising costs on a matchday.

Jurasek added: “We endeavour to have regular and strong communication with all our supporters, across all our teams, and aim to enhance and improve this connection season-on-season.”

Commenting on Jurasek’s letter, CST chairman Mark Meehan said it “doesn’t really address the issue we raised”.

Meehan added: “There are serious supporter concerns about the direction of the club, and particularly the disconnection felt towards the club ownership, board as well as the majority of the team and the manager.

“We were not questioning the existing supporter engagement mechanisms at Chelsea, including our very open and honest relationships with key individuals such as (director) Danny Finkelstein.

“We were saying that in order to reassure and reset relationships with fans, a much wider form of communication with fans is necessary.”

Meehan’s statement concluded: “A football club belongs to its supporters and the CST will continue to do everything in its power to guarantee that the voices of those supporters are heard from the stands to the boardroom and ensure that Chelsea supporters are at the very centre of every key decision made by the club – we are supporters, not customers.”

Chelsea have been contacted for further comment.

What the papers say

Gareth Southgate is the top choice of Manchester United co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe to replace Erik ten Hag as manager in the summer, reports the Star.

According to The Times, Nottingham Forest may be forced to sell star players by the end of June to avoid losing more points for breaching financial rules.

Tottenham, Chelsea, and West Ham are all keen on England striker Ivan Toney, reports The Sun.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Jack Grealish: HITC writes that Manchester City might let the England forward leave this summer, with the club understood to be raising funds to boost their squad.

Alexander Isak: The Newcastle and Sweden striker is on Arsenal’s summer shortlist, says Football Insider.

Erling Haaland: The Manchester City striker limped out of training while on international duty with Norway, alarming his club, writes The Guardian.

Sjoeke Nusken scored her second brace in as many games as Chelsea beat Ajax 3-0 in the first leg of their Women’s Champions League quarter-final.

Emma Hayes’ side continued their search for European glory as they flexed their attacking pedigree at Johan Cruijff ArenA.

Lauren James was among the scorers again before summer signing Nusken was on hand twice to extend their advantage ahead of the return leg at Stamford Bridge later this month.

Chelsea took the lead after 19 minutes. James and Nusken, who had starred in the Blues’ 3-1 win over Arsenal in the Women’s Super League last week, combined again.

Nusken tried to thread a ball through and after it rebounded off two Ajax players, James rounded the keeper to score.

The Blues thought they had doubled the lead through Guro Reiten but were denied after a lengthy VAR check.

James showed off her technical ability to pick out Reiten in the box but her strike took a nick off the offside Nusken as Chelsea were left frustrated.

Reiten had impressed down the left flank all night and made another dangerous run before Chelsea doubled their lead.

The Norwegian winger marauded forward before she delivered an inch-perfect cross to the surging Nusken. The versatile German did not think twice before she finished first time, highlighting Chelsea’s ruthlessness in front of goal and strengthening their foothold in the tie.

The Blues had dominated up to this point. They came out in the second half playing at the same tempo and enjoyed long spells of possession before Nusken missed the chance to put them 3-0 up.

A pinged pass was made into the box and after Reiten did well to beat her marker in the air and knock it down, Nusken leant back too far before powering her strike well over the bar.

Catarina Macario’s impact was noticed straight away off the bench as she assisted the third.

The pacey wide player whipped a cross from the right into the path of Nusken who was alert in the box, and she rose highest and powered a header home.

What the papers say

Chelsea forward Raheem Sterling will give Saudi Arabian clubs the cold shoulder this summer, the Evening Standard reports, with the 29-year-old England international – who was booed  by Blues fans at the weekend – set on helping the Stamford Bridge club get their hands on silverware next season.

Borussia Dortmund would be keen to bring on-loan winger Jadon Sancho back to the club on a permanent basis, but only if Manchester United are willing to accept half the £73million they bought the England international for in 2021, the Mirror reports.

Chelsea striker Cole Palmer, 21, is to be rewarded with a new and improved contract after an impressive start to life at Stamford Bridge following his summer move from Manchester City, says Football Insider.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Joshua Kimmich: Bayern Munich are open to selling the Germany midfielder, however he is only interested in joining Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Real Madrid or Barcelona, writes Florian Plettenberg.

Eddie Nketiah: Wolves are in the hunt to sign the England striker, 24, who may leave Arsenal in the summer, reports Teamtalk.

Eden Hazard has no regrets about how his dream move to Real Madrid unfolded as he enjoys life after football.

The Belgian forward joined the Spanish giants in 2019 after becoming one of the best players in the world at Chelsea but could not have the impact he hoped for.

Injuries and poor form restricted him to just 76 appearances in all competitions before leaving the club after four disappointing years last summer.

He decided to retire soon after, aged just 32, but will put his boots back on this summer after signing up to play for the World XI at Soccer Aid.

Hazard still looks back on his time at the Bernabeu with pride.

“It was my dream, I can tell you,” he said. “Even if the story was not that good, we all know injuries and this and that, but when you look back you can see some pictures of me wearing the Real Madrid shirt and it was something I am really proud of.”

Asked whether he could have carried on playing had things ended differently at Madrid, he replied: “That’s a good question, who knows? I think so, but my time playing football was over, I had a lot of injuries, so no regrets.”

Hazard’s involvement in Soccer Aid on June 9 will see an emotional return to Stamford Bridge, where he enjoyed a stellar seven years.

He won two Premier League titles, two Europa Leagues, an FA Cup and a League Cup and reflects on “pure happiness” during his stay in west London.

 

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“I spent seven years, the best memories of my football career,” he said.

“I met great players, not just inside the team but also outside the club, it was seven years of pure happiness.

“When you leave you always feel a bit sad but this club is always in my head, so just good memories.”

Hazard, who has kept in shape because he doesn’t want to look like “Peppa Pig”, is enjoying life away from football.

He does not see a future in professional coaching or management, but would love to help his five children follow him into the game.

“I am enjoying it a lot, I miss being with the lads in the dressing room a bit but I have the freedom to do what I want now,” he told the PA news agency.

“I have kids, I have family, I can go to Belgium to see my mum and dad, so I can do a lot of things.

“I don’t know, now it is just good to be away, but I still love football, for sure I am going to do something in football in the future, but now I just want to relax and enjoy my retirement.

“I don’t think I will coach professionally, but I think I can coach for youth teams. I have kids, and I want to teach them how to play football.”

He will be managed by current Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino in the charity match, with the likes of Usain Bolt and Roberto Carlos joining him in the World XI.

“It’s going to be at Stamford Bridge with friends, so it is going to be a great night,” he said.

“So let’s have fun, score some goals and make the fans happy. They do amazing work, especially when you are a dad and you have kids and you see everything they do for kids.

“You want them to do more and that is why you want people to come to the game to have a good time at Stamford Bridge.”

:: Soccer Aid for Unicef 2024 takes place on June 9 at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, with tickets available at www.socceraid.org.uk/tickets.

Carney Chukwuemeka praised “big brother” Raheem Sterling after the England forward endured a mixed afternoon during Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Leicester.

Sterling left the field late in the second half to a smattering of applause but also audible boos, with fans near the Stamford Bridge dugout having implored manager Mauricio Pochettino to substitute him.

Earlier he had missed two golden chances to help wrap up the game, which Chelsea eventually won 4-2 with stoppage-time goals from substitutes Chukwuemeka and Noni Madueke.

He received scorn from sections of the home support for taking the ball out of the hands of regular penalty taker Cole Palmer after winning a first-half spot-kick, which he subsequently saw saved by Leicester goalkeeper Jakub Stolarczyk.

And there was further ire when he whacked a free-kick from 20 yards high into the stand behind the goal, with Pochettino loudly jeered as he opted to withdraw Mykhailo Mudryk – who had a fine game – rather than Sterling in the 78th minute.

The 29-year-old England international was eventually replaced four minutes from the end.

Match-winner Chukwuemeka, who netted his first Stamford Bridge goal to make it 3-2 two minutes into added time, made a robust defence of Sterling, citing him as a key influence amongst Chelsea’s young squad.

“Raheem is an experienced player, he’s had an amazing career,” he said. “We know what a great footballer he is. He’s contributed to goals, assists, won so many penalties for the team this season.

“It happens. He’s human. Players miss chances, have an off day. We stay behind him. He still got an assist for Cole’s goal (which put Chelsea 2-0 up).

“For us youngsters, especially me, Noni and Cole, he’s helped us a lot since we came. He’s always on us, showing us what we can do better, what we can improve on, outside of football as well as in.

“He’s a big part. He’s like my big brother.”

It was just Chukwuemeka’s second goal for Chelsea since joining from Aston Villa in August 2022.

The 20-year-old underwent surgery on a knee injury in August, returning to action only in February.

His goal to effectively settle the tie against Leicester came after a sublime flick to set him up by Palmer, who was excellent again.

“(Palmer) makes a massive difference,” said Chukwuemeka. “Even in training we’re always finding each other, we’re linking up well. As soon as I played it to him, I knew I was getting it back.

“He even told me before he game that when I come on he’s going to assist me. We have that combination together which is good. Hopefully we can build on it.

“I never lost faith and belief in myself. Even when I got injured, I just thought it was a bump in the road, a trial that I need to overcome.

“I know what I can do and hopefully I can keep showing everyone.”

Holders Manchester City will face Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals with rivals Manchester United taking on outsiders Coventry.

The draw for the last four raises the prospect of a repeat of last season’s all-Manchester final.

Treble-chasing City eased through with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Newcastle on Saturday while Chelsea saw off Leicester 4-2.

United’s reward for a thrilling 4-3 extra-time victory over Liverpool on Sunday is a clash with Championship outfit Coventry, who stunned Wolves 3-2.

Coventry are managed by former United striker Mark Robins, scorer of a crucial winner as the Red Devils beat Nottingham Forest en route to winning the competition in 1990 – a goal widely believed to have saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job as manager.

The Sky Blues famously won the cup in 1987 but have endured some lean years since their relegation from the Premier League in 2001.

United are hoping to win the trophy for the first time since 2016 while Chelsea last won the cup in 2018.

The matches will be played at Wembley on the weekend of April 20-21.

Mauricio Pochettino called for more trust and urged the Chelsea fans to offer “unconditional” backing to his young team after they progressed into the FA Cup semi-finals with a roller-coaster 4-2 win over Leicester.

Stoppage-time goals by substitutes Carney Chukwuemeka and Noni Madueke settled a last-eight clash that had everything, with Leicester reduced to 10 men after Raheem Sterling’s missed first-half penalty, while the Blues’ Axel Disasi also produced extraordinary own goal.

When Disasi fired his back pass beyond goalkeeper Robert Sanchez in the 51st minute, it offered Leicester a lifeline and they levelled in stunning fashion 11 minutes later when Stephy Mavididi rifled into the corner.

The Stamford Bridge crowd were ready to turn when Sterling blazed a free-kick into the stand, which was met with boos, after the visitors were reduced to 10 men after Callum Doyle brought down Nicolas Jackson.

Pochettino’s decision to take off Mykhailo Mudryk and not Sterling was greeted with chants of, ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’, but the Chelsea boss had the last laugh, with Chukwuemeka slotting home in the first minute of stoppage time before Madueke curled home from range to clinch a Wembley return.

“For a second time, FA Cup, Carabao Cup, we are going to Wembley,” former Tottenham manager Pochettino insisted.

“When I arrived in England at Southampton, they said, ‘we need to go to Wembley, we need to go to Wembley’. In Tottenham, ‘we need to go to Wembley, we need to go to Wembley’.

“Now look in nine months in two different competitions we got to Wembley and we need to enjoy and we need to trust more.

“I am a very positive person. I really believe in our fans, I really believe in our club and I really believe the most important in our staff we have today because all the staff are fantastic. And of course our players.

“Young (players) but I am enjoying a lot trying to help them achieve what they want. Of course all together we will succeed, no doubt.”

Chelsea had started well against their second-tier opponents with Jackson impressively able to burst past Jannik Vestergaard to set up Marc Cucurella for a 13th-minute opener.

It should have been 2-0 when Sterling was caught in the area by Abdul Fatawu, but the penalty by the Blues attacker was poor and Jakub Stolarczyk saved the scuffed effort with his feet.

Sterling had taken the ball off Palmer, who had scored all five of his spot-kicks this season, although the duo combined before half-time with the latter able to sweep home for his 14th goal of the campaign.

A dramatic second half was to follow, but the Chelsea boss attempted to defend Sterling after he took his penalty record to five misses from nine kicks.

Pochettino added: “Raheem asked for the ball for the penalty and Cole gave the ball. You saw on the TV but that is not a problem.

“Cole can miss, Raheem can miss. For me, their decision and I will always support the decision of my players on the pitch.

“It’s obvious that I cannot hide nothing. You are like me, the feelings weren’t good for him (Sterling) but I am going to support him, we are all going to support him.

“We need to accept. It doesn’t mean we agree or not agree but we have to accept because our fans, all the fans in football live expectation and want the best for the club, the best for the players.

“Of course when you don’t match the expectation, this is difficult thing for our fans to understand. I was talking in the past and I am strong. I have no problem.

“We will keep moving in the same direction and of course we want to create better emotion. I cannot lie, I hope the next game our fans will be always unconditional behind the team because we are representing Chelsea.

“The players also want to give the best for the club and for the fans. We want to make happy our fans and we are going to try.

“I hope we can create until the end of the season a good connection with the fans, but I am never going to criticise the fans. Never, because they are entitled to say what they want.”

Leicester boss Enzo Maresca praised his team, adding: “The most important thing is we don’t lose our identity.

“It doesn’t matter if it is Chelsea or Bristol City. We are just working since the first day one way and we will continue until the end.”

Chelsea needed stoppage-time goals from substitutes Carney Chukwuemeka and Noni Madueke to edge past 10-man Leicester 4-2 in a wild FA Cup quarter-final at Stamford Bridge.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side led 2-0 before the visitors stormed back to level, but a glorious flick from the excellent Cole Palmer set up Chukwuemeka to slot the ball into the corner to put Chelsea 3-2 up before Madueke gave the score some gloss with a brilliant solo effort.

Chelsea were two up at the break thanks to goals from Marc Cucurella and Palmer, while Raheem Sterling had a first-half penalty saved.

A surreal own-goal from Axel Disasi and a Stephy Mavididi goal improbably hauled Leicester back, before Callum Doyle was red carded late on.

Extra-time beckoned, until Pochettino’s subs won it.

Chelsea took the lead after 12 minutes and the move started with a powerful tackle from Moises Caicedo to win the ball on the edge of his own box. One pass released Palmer down the right, and he looked up to see Nicolas Jackson galloping clear and he crossed for the unmarked Cucurella to tap home.

After a strong Leicester opening the goal settled nerves around Stamford Bridge, but this has become a ground used to existing in a state of apprehension.

Robert Sanchez dithered and was nearly dispossessed by Patson Daka, with only good fortune sparing the goalkeeper’s embarrassment. Abdul Fatawu might have done better when he glanced a header wide at the back post from Daka’s cross.

Whatever frustration the winger felt, he moments later allowed it to get the better of him when he crashed through the back of Sterling inside the box for a penalty.

Sterling had scored only six goals in the league this season and took the ball out of the hands of usual taker Palmer, a move he would quickly regret. The penalty was hit low and centrally, and was saved by Jakub Stolarczyk.

He had the chance to make amends for his penalty blunder when sent clear by a fine through-ball from Caicedo but he placed a shot wide with only Stolarczyk to beat.

Sterling finally put things right in the final minutes of the first half. Receiving the ball in the box he ran it almost to the byline and crossed low from the left for the arriving Palmer to make it 2-0.

Chelsea were in full control, but five minutes after the break things altered in ludicrous circumstances.

Disasi received the ball back from a throw-in in the right-back position and was quickly put under pressure by Daka. Turning to play it to his goalkeeper, the Leicester forward nudged him at the moment of contact, and his pass span up and out of his control, sailing over Sanchez for a comical own-goal.

And the tie was level after 62 minutes.

Mavididi cushioned the ball wide on the left, turned and ran at Gusto. The defender backed off and with a swing of the right boot Mavididi sent a fine, arching shot round the dive of Sanchez and in.

It capped a stunning recovery from the visitors, but within minutes they were down to 10 men.

Jackson was tripped by defender Doyle and Andrew Madley initially gave a penalty and showed a yellow card. VAR showed the contact was outside the box, but as the furthest Leicester player back, Doyle saw red.

Madueke came off the bench and saw a first-time shot saved low to his right by Stolarczyk, before he skied one into the Matthew Harding Stand from 12 yards.

The last hope of avoiding extra-time looked to have slipped away. Then came Palmer’s flick, Chukwuemeka’s finish and Madueke’s crowning touch to send Chelsea to Wembley.

Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes has said she let herself down with comments on relationships between players and was wrong to use the term “inappropriate”.

Hayes said in a news conference on Thursday that player-coach relationships should be banned in the Women’s Super League and that player-player relationships were also “inappropriate”.

Chelsea defender Jess Carter, who is in a relationship with team-mate Ann-Katrin Berger, later liked a tweet claiming it was “beyond bonkers to bring player/player relationships into the conversation”.

Chelsea striker Sam Kerr announced her engagement with West Ham’s American midfielder Kristie Mewis last year.

After Chelsea’s WSL win against Arsenal on Friday night, Hayes, who has won six WSL titles since taking charge in 2012, said she regretted her comments.

Hayes said: “Of course Jess and I have had a conversation about that.

“I’m supposed to be the most non-clickbait coach and so I let myself down yesterday.

“I don’t think it was right for me to use the term inappropriate for the players.

“When I have honest conversations I don’t take things back but I have zero criticism of any player in my dressing room for anything regarding their status or who they’re in a relationship with.”

On Thursday, Aston Villa boss Carla Ward said a manager should be sacked for having a relationship with a player, calling it a “complete abuse of power”.

Hayes was one of several other WSL head coaches who claimed coach-player relationships should not be allowed.

When asked if a ban should be part of a wider WSL code of conduct, Hayes said: “Yeah, I think so. There are challenges that we should be moving past.”

Emma Hayes lauded “maverick” Lauren James’ performance in Chelsea’s 3-1 victory over Women’s Super League title rivals Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.

James impressed once again and scored Chelsea’s opener when she latched onto a through ball, showed good skills to open up a shooting opportunity before drilling in a shot which Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger got her hands to but was unable to keep out.

Sjoeke Nusken then struck twice more in the first half to put the game beyond Arsenal as Chelsea moved three points clear of Manchester City at the top of the table.

It was an impressive display from the reigning WSL champions in a game delayed by a sock clash, and James’ performance in front of 33,000 fans in west London drew special praise from her coach.

“It’s a playground for her out there,” Hayes said.

“We coach many different players but Lauren is a maverick. It’s not always perfect, it’s not always on point, it’s not always consistent in every element but I understand her as a person and I know that when we get to Stamford Bridge she will 1000 per cent perform for the team here.

“She did her job out of possession with Nusken and I thought she played with joy and freedom when the ball was played to her feet.

“She can carry the weight of the crowd and knows she’s important for the team. I’m happy for her.”

James had been a doubt for the game after battling with illness earlier in the week but Hayes admitted she needed the 22-year-old England international.

She added: “She’d been sick all week. She came on against Everton and wasn’t very well, she came out for one training session and I told her that she has to go and play up top because we don’t have another striker.”

Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall, whose third-placed side netted a late consolation through Catarina Macario’s own goal, said failing to deal with James contributed to their downfall.

“We allowed Chelsea to play (with) our organisation and that was their plan when playing James at nine,” he said.

“She’s very good and I thought we dealt with her very poorly and that was a big part of us not performing well enough to push for the result or the win today.”

Jonas Eidevall revealed referee Rebecca Welch delayed Chelsea’s Women’s Super League clash with Arsenal when both teams were lined up in the tunnel.

Kick-off for Chelsea’s 3-1 victory was delayed by 30 minutes while Arsenal staff collected black socks from their opponents’ megastore, using blue tape to cover the Chelsea and Nike logos.

Arsenal had arrived to Stamford Bridge with the same colour white socks as the hosts and were forced to make a change.

“It was a clash of colour with the kits which came to mine, the players and the other team’s attention very late,” he said.

“We got told that we can’t go out and play with the kit we had so we had to adapt and that was definitely a first.

“I was not involved in the process in how it was resolved.

“We found out when we left the dressing room to go to the tunnel so it was a very late call and notice.

“It is what it is. It was the same for both teams.”

Emma Hayes admitted she was delighted with the incident and relished seeing Arsenal players wearing Chelsea lions on their socks.

Hayes also called for less criticism towards Arsenal’s kit man, acknowledging he was left red-faced after the mix-up.

“I’m not throwing the kit man under the bus,” Hayes said.

“He’s going to be feeling terrible tonight, it was a mistake. He’s a new guy, new into the position so please don’t slaughter him.

“Because we didn’t have our blue socks I couldn’t say ‘don’t worry about it, we’ll put blue socks on’.

“I was delighted to see lion crests on Arsenal players’ legs in the first half. Maybe that gave my players motivation, I don’t know.

“It was an earnest mistake and something which that poor guy is going home tonight and will feel bad about. I’m certainly not going to pile in on him.”

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