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Hayes on tactical BS-ers, space management, and preparing Chelsea Women for Lyon

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A must-read interview with Chelsea FCW’s manager, Emma Hayes

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Chelsea Women v Paris Saint-Germain Women - UEFA Women’s Champions League: Quarter Final First Leg Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Emma Hayes, MBE, is going on seven years as manager of Chelsea FC Women (née Chelsea Ladies FC) and today, she will face the biggest game of her career in the first leg of the UEFA Women’s Champions League against all-conquering Olympique Lyonnais (16.00 BST kick-off).

Lyon are the “Harlem Globetrotters” of women’s football, as she says, although I think she’s a bit wrong there. The Globetrotters aren’t a relentless winning machine. They are entertainers. Lyon are the best of the best, and they’re ruthless — three Champions League and twelve French league titles in a row. If we want a basketball analogy, we probably should go with the Dream Team (1992) instead.

But even the Dream Team faltered eventually, losing three times at the 2004 Olympics, which remain the USA’s only three losses in men’s basketball at the Olympics since 1992. The reasons for the 2004 Dream Team’s failure are numerous and complex, but in her interview with the Telegraph, Hayes thinks she has spotted a weakness in Lyon’s armor, too.

But it’s not so easy as moving pieces around on a whiteboard and clicking a few options in Football Manager.

“I cannot all of a sudden give [the players] a tactical game plan that’s new this week. It has to be drilled into them. But you have to be adaptable. [...] I’m not stubborn about tactics. Formations are merely f*****g numbers. It’s all about space and who is hurting us where. That’s how I view the game.”

Managing space should be the primary consideration of any football game, whether in attack or in defense. It’s one of the reasons the game so hard to quantify.

“Does the set-up change? What’s the threat? Where does she want to run? Who’s going to deal with this player, then? What’s the biggest threat? Which pass are you more worried about? Is that the best space for us to attack, or is it where they want us to go? They’re all considerations. Now, take all of that at a basic level — how much am I going to tell my team? I’ll train them in brief instances.

“These are the questions you have to ask yourself. We’re brave. I’m brave. I’ll do what I can to get my team to a position. I don’t want to be changing my formation three times in a game, but I certainly won’t get to the end of it and say, ‘I should have done that.’ Is this a game that’s won in 45 minutes? No. I’m approaching this game in 15 minute blocks over two legs.”

Chelsea and Hayes may have spent the last seven years building up to this game, but just like in the last round, the team’s success could depend on spot decisions and luck and everything else that goes into the dark arts of football management.

“These are the hard things about managing football matches. We get too much credit when it goes well. People think this half time is like a magical moment: ‘Oh, the coach must have done something!’ I think it’s utter nonsense. If you’re getting pummelled by a team, more often than not you don’t just go, ‘S**t! We’re getting murdered!’ and then suddenly we’re completely in control. It’s the opposite. All you do is shorten the gap. ‘We’re getting murdered less - stay in the game.’

“It was like we were climbing anti-gravity paint in that game [against PSG]. I was just, ‘Put the fire out. Put the fire out.’ That’s the truth of it. I think if any coach tells you otherwise, they’re b**********g you.”

Tactical preparation, fighting fires, managing space. Last but not least, some “balls”.

“You can either sit here and s**t yourself, or you face it and go for it.”

-Emma Hayes; source: Telegraph