Hayes labels James 'most naturally gifted player' in WSL

Emma Hayes labelled Lauren James “the most naturally gifted player in the country” after the Chelsea forward’s unplayable display in Saturday’s 5-1 win over Liverpool.

James scored her first WSL hat-trick at Stamford Bridge and had a hand in the other two goals as Matt Beard’s Reds were put to the sword on a dreary afternoon in west London.

“The work Lauren did out of possession was outstanding,” Hayes said in her post-match press conference.

Lauren James celebrates with Chelsea team-mates

“The way she back-pressed, the way she counter-pressed, the way she shut off the pitch in the right moments. She dominated her duels, she did it for 90 minutes. I think she was selfless in her work. I thought it was outstanding.

“Her forward play was unstoppable, but she got herself into such great positions because of the work she did for the team off the ball.”

With a smile, Hayes stopped short of revealing what she had whispered to the England star after the full-time whistle, but lavished praise on the 22-year-old after an afternoon of sheer brilliance.

“She’s the most naturally gifted footballer in the country. She does things with very little back-lift. Lauren is a really, really intelligent footballer. Forget the technical bit, she’s really intelligent.

“I think she knows she’s got the ability to finish in and around the penalty area. Sometimes she doesn’t realise how powerful she is. You don’t actually need to put any more leather on it! She doesn’t understand that as she’s like ‘I’m just hitting it normally’.

“Finessing her finishing is a challenge I’ve set for her and I’m really happy for her this week.”

Speaking to BBC Sport after the game, James herself praised Hayes for her influence and paid tribute to her manager, who is into her final six months as Blues boss after it was announced she will take over as the United States women’s team at the end of the season.

“It feels amazing, and even better to do it at the Bridge,” she said.

“With the news of Emma [Hayes] leaving, I think everything I do this year is thankful to her. She was saying how proud she is of me, and I’ve had a difficult last week with the news and everything.

“I’m so thankful I could get my confidence back with today’s performance.”

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