Hayes ‘over the moon’ as Kirby returns for Women’s FA Cup final
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes says she is “over the moon” as Fran Kirby returns to contention for the Women’s FA Cup final against Man City on Sunday.
Around a month ago, it was announced Kirby would be ruled out for an indefinite amount of time due to injury and fatigue concerns that were being investigated by Chelsea, having taken various periods out over the last few seasons due to health issues.
However, Hayes revealed in her pre-match press conference that Kirby will be involved in the squad for Sunday’s match at Wembley – which is set to break the record for the highest attendance at a Women’s FA Cup final – having been involved in training this week and heaped praise on the England forward.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on her because I love that kid and she’s been through a lot, but it looked like she hadn’t even been away – she looked that good in training,” Hayes said.
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“It was nice to see a smile on her face. She’s participated in everything. We said at the beginning of the week ‘let’s see how it goes and do one bit of one session on day one’. She came out of that and said ‘it’s not enough’ and then we did day two and now she’s been in training all week. I’m over the moon, to be honest.
“I think she’s a generational talent. Maybe I’m biased because I work with her, but rarely have I seen a football player do what she does. Even the way she finds space, the way she makes decisions, the way she plays with selfless attributes in possession. She can pick a pass out, she’s got eyes at the back of her head.
“She is a winner every day she wants to be on the winning team. She’s a grumpy one when it isn’t going well because she wants to win so badly. Fran has had to grow up in the limelight and I think that’s really tough.
“She’s grown up at Chelsea with a lot of adversity, a lot of setbacks in her career and I admire the way she’s handled that each and every time.
“I care about her and when I make decisions, I always think about if it was my child, what would I want for her? There have been various times in different situations, we’ve had to make decisions together and we had to get things right… I just want her to be well and happy and she’s in a great place today.”
The FA Cup final comes a week after Chelsea clinched a third successive WSL title, and have won their last 13 games in all competitions – including wins against Leicester, Birmingham and Arsenal in their way to this weekend’s final.
They will be looking to complete a domestic double, but did lose in the Women’s League Cup final against Man City in March, with perhaps a little bit of vengeance on the cards.
When asked if their WSL title win takes the pressure off Chelsea on Sunday, Hayes replied: “If you choose to be in these positions, you have to accept that and I don’t think there’s any more or less pressure than there was a week ago. What I do know is that there is a team that in the second half of the season has been absolutely outstanding.
“The women’s game wins again on Sunday, hopefully with a record crowd and two amazing teams full of talent.
“It’s going to be tight. Both the men’s and the women’s game, we would agree that there’s not a lot between the sides.
“For us, last time we played City, we were depleted. This week, we’ve got a full strength squad, including Fran Kirby. I think we’re going into the game in a much better place than we did the Continental Cup final.”
Taylor: No real edge for either team
Man City head into the game in title-winning form, having won 21 of their 23 games in all competitions, including the last 13 matches – including the League Cup final win against Chelsea.
Victory this weekend would see Man City lift their fourth FA Cup trophy, moving one ahead of Chelsea for all-time wins. City have featured in three of the last five finals and are yet to suffer defeat in any of them.
However, Taylor believes Sunday’s showpiece final at Wembley will be an entirely different occasion with very little to choose between two in-form sides.
Man City team news: Stokes, Park in contention
Demi Stokes and Jess Park are back for Man City. Defender Stokes missed out on the final day win at Reading, while 20-year-old forward Park has not featured since the start of April.
Vicky Losada also picked up valuable game time last Sunday, but Karen Bardsley, Esme Morgan and Steph Houghton remain sidelined.
He said: “Sometimes it can have a relevance to the game in terms of the rhythm and tempo, but it’s a one-off game and it’s about who manages it well enough on the day and who plays the game – not the occasion.
“We’ve been there before in cup finals so have Chelsea… so there’s no real edge for either team. It’s just who goes out and performs best on the day.
“We want to win another trophy. It’s one we’ve been successful in previously. Whatever happens on Sunday, we’re proud of the season and we’re moving in the right direction.
“It’s always a tactical affair when we play Chelsea. They always potentially want to surprise you. We’ve had that previously – it’s always making sure we’re ready for any eventuality, whether it’s build-up or how we press… but we try not to go too much into the opposition, we focus on ourselves.
“[The rivalry] is massive. We want to do it no doubt, but there’s a healthy respect between the clubs, players, myself and Emma [Hayes]. Why wouldn’t we commend what they’ve done? Emma’s been supported, won trophies, got to finals and done amazingly.
“It doesn’t change things. Of course. we want to be that team beating them and have another opportunity on Sunday.”
Tactics dossier: The similarities and differences between Chelsea and City
In terms of the stats from the WSL this season, both Chelsea and Man City rank closely in multiple areas. The Blues were second behind Arsenal for both goals scored and conceded, with City coming in third.
Chelsea actually created the most chances, but this was only 21 more than third-placed Man City. However, in terms of shots on target, the standings are switched – Taylor’s side are first, with Chelsea in third.
An area that Hayes’ side will look to dominate on Sunday is in the air – the Blues ranked top for aerial duels in the WSL this season, while Man City were quite a way behind in fourth place.
Defensively, Chelsea have pretty good solidity all over the pitch, especially between each box. Having conceded just 11 WSL goals this season, it’s no surprise to see how strong the Blues are defensively.
Their shot map is also interesting. All of Chelsea’s shots came from central positions. If you kept the sidelines of the 18-yard box going further up the pitch, none of the Blues’ shots came from outside of them.
Contrastingly, Man City’s shots in the WSL came from a much wider spread inside the area and from outside of it too. They racked up more shots on targets – although a similar number of goals – from outside the 18-yard box. Man City were also busier closer to goal as well, with more activity in the six-yard area.
But Taylor’s side do differ quite a bit defensively. They are far less solid in their own 18-yard box and also in defensive midfield – perhaps owing to some of their injury issues earlier in the season.
Despite differing shot maps, Chelsea and Man City almost have identical attacking patterns. They both saw 38 per cent of their play come down the left flank, while City slightly edged it on the left.
Chelsea see one per cent more of their attacking play through the middle, which would correlate with all of their shots coming in central positions. The Blues clearly use their wings to find players like Sam Kerr inside the area, while City’s wingers have more shots themselves from wider areas.
Does City’s resurgence give them the edge over Chelsea?
As the WSL’s two most in-form sides prepare to go head-to-head at Wembley in the FA Cup final, we look at who is the more likely to lift the trophy.
“It’ll be tight,” Sky Sports’ Karen Carney said. “You’re looking at the two most in-form teams. People will say ‘what about Arsenal?’, but I think Chelsea and City are the ones.
“City are unbeaten since early February – their goals for are pretty spectacular in this period. Goals against are also significantly improved. If you have 10 players out injured, as they did, that affects your training, your culture, the games, the results.
“The bulk of their main players are back fit, and they’ve got more stability. They’ve found their rhythm again. Part of me favours them.”
The players view: Eriksson, Stanway, Hemp
Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson: “It’s already a massive weekend for the club, having the men’s team in the male final and the women’s team in the other final. It’s exactly where we want to be as a club and it’s something we’re proud of. If both teams can lift it as well, it’ll be really big. We’ll be cheering on the men’s team and they’ll be cheering us on Sunday.
“We go hand-in-hand with being successful. They’ve had more ups and downs lately, but it’s still an extremely strong team and exciting to watch. They play a similar formation to us at times so it’s interesting watching their players and getting inspiration for my induvial role as well. Rudiger has had an amazing season and he’s someone I often look at.
“It’s cool that when we get the opportunity to play in the big stadiums, we tend to fill it or get loads of big crowds. We’re proving the interest is there and it’s been there consistently since fans were allowed back in the stadium.
“These are the kinds of games that we live for and train for every week. It’s that one last push as well, we’re going to give it everything we’ve got. Hopefully we will lift the trophy in the end.”
Head-to-head this season
- Last met in League Cup Final at Plough Lane on March 5 – City came from behind to win 3-1
- It was City’s first win in 10 meetings. Chelsea had won seven of the previous nine
- Chelsea won both WSL meetings this season – 4-0 away & 1-0 at home
Man City forward Georgia Stanway told mancity.com: “We’re Manchester City: we’re an unbelievable team, we play unbelievable football and we have unbelievable individuals. We have to back that all the way.
“There are 90 minutes in a game, it doesn’t have to be the first minute that you score. They all count. Be patient and ride it out, and hopefully we’ll get the result we want.
“We had a rocky start but we’re on the right track, going up. The critical moment was the Continental Cup final – how we brought it back. Players stepped up and that was an unbelievable day.
“We’ve ticked off the Conti Cup so we’ve achieved something. To have done that and got to the FA Cup final considering the start we had makes it more exciting and showcases the growth we’ve had as a team this year.
“It wasn’t the year we wanted in terms of our start, but we can end it on a high. We just need to win, simple as that. The FA Cup… What a way to end the season! Winning that would be a dream come true.”
Man City forward Lauren Hemp told mancity.com: “These are the games everyone wants to be involved in. The FA Cup Final is a massive occasion. It’s one I’ve been part of before and those are the moments you remember when you look back on your career.
“It’s really exciting. We’re all in a good place, feeling really confident. We’re coming into the game in good form off the back of a lot of wins, and we’re training really hard to be ready for it.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to lift another trophy and hopefully get one up on Chelsea again. We can’t wait.”