Emma Hayes warns Champions League rivals to beware

Lauren James celebrates against PSG – Zac Goodwin/PA

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes believes the English side are finally “ready” to win a first Champions League title since Arsenal’s 2007 victory.

The Women’s Super League (WSL) is often hailed as the world’s most competitive women’s competition, but the Gunners’ title 15 years ago remains the only time an English club has conquered the continent, with Hayes’ side coming closest when they finished second in 2021.

WSL leaders Chelsea and second-placed Arsenal both topped their respective Champions League groups this week, something Hayes credited to the game’s exponential growth and increased professionalisation over the past few years.

She said: “We think about two years ago when we were in the final, that was the start of it, but actually we weren’t ready.

“I think English teams are at a better level to compete because the demands of our league, the quality, the depth of our squad, the training at a higher intensity over a longer period of time has prepared us to be in a better position.

“I think the English clubs are exactly where we need to be based on those factors, so I’m not surprised that Arsenal and ourselves are in the position we are.”

Emma Hayes is optimistic about WSL teams' chances of Champions League glory this season - Zac Goodwin/PA

Emma Hayes is optimistic about WSL teams’ chances of Champions League glory this season – Zac Goodwin/PA

Chelsea sealed their position with a 3-0 win over Paris St. Germain in front of 10,129 at Stamford Bridge in their final group stage match on Thursday.

Hayes’ unbeaten side had already qualified for the knockout stages and simply needed to avoid defeat to their French opponents by two or more goals to lock up their position, and will find out their quarter-final opponents in February’s draw.

Sam Kerr scored an unstoppable opener late in the first half before Lauren James, who had looked dangerous throughout the first period, scored two in seven minutes to give her the comfortable win and open her Champions League account.

The 21-year-old sister of England’s Chelsea’s Reece James, who made her Lions debut in September, came off shortly after getting her brace on 62 minutes, with her boss insisting the move was necessary.

“I think you’ve seen Lauren in and around the penalty box is outstanding,” Hayes said. “I think we have to be aware that there’s still so much for her, to have her game continue to develop, whether it’s tracking defenders, whether it’s getting back into defensive positions early, whether it is related to fewer touches when she has figures around her.

“There’s still so much for her game to develop. I took her out because I’m aware of her age and the stage, and I thought she looked a little lethargic. That’s why I’ll always proceed with caution with her.

“Still, the talent is there for everyone to see, but I think we have to go one step at a time with Lauren, just because you’ve seen the demands that are made in a high-intensity game that if I don’t do it. , then I risk being reckless, and I don’t intend to do that.”

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