'We have fighting chance': Hayes clinging to Chelsea WSL dream

The dynasty of Emma Hayes’s reign at Chelsea has been nothing short of spectacular.

Collecting 15 titles since her appointment in 2012, Hayes has transformed the Blues into a dominant force.

A new challenge awaits her this summer as the head coach of the United States women’s national team, but Hayes’ quest for a historic fifth Women’s Super League title in a row is down to the final four games of the season.

Many would have hoped for her tenure at Chelsea to end on a high, but the potential for a quadruple trophy haul has taken a major hit. The Blues were eliminated from the Champions League following a thrilling second-leg defeat to Barcelona. Before that, they lost the Continental Cup final to Arsenal in March and were eliminated from the FA Cup in the semi-finals just two weeks later.

Hayes is very aware that the task of challenging Manchester City for the WSL title, will not be easy. While Wednesday’s trip to Liverpool is one of Chelsea’s two games in hand on the side six points above them, Hayes’ side must also overturn a goal-difference deficit of seven in the process.

“We have to catch them. They’ve been from driving from the front,” says Hayes ahead of the game at Prenton Park, live on Sky Sports.

“They’ve just received an injury to Bunny Shaw. They are a team that are not going to give up on anything and I expect Manchester City to win every game for the remainder of the season.”

Hayes will not be drawn into the niceties of discussing her career at Chelsea and what could have been in this final season. Her focus and motivation are remaining in a position to challenge and win silverware.

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Chelsea’s Aggie Beever-Jones says they want to win their fifth straight WSL title for manager Emma Hayes, who will depart the club at the end of the season

“I’m not thinking about the success we’ve had over the years,” she says. “It doesn’t always mean you’re going to keep winning, but I’d rather be in the positions to be competing for something than sat on my hands with no games.”

Head-to-head meetings with Liverpool manager Matt Beard are the most Hayes has had against any WSL manager.

While Hayes has stayed at Chelsea throughout that time, Beard has taken charge of West Ham, Bristol City and now Liverpool. Hayes knows what the challenge of facing any Beard side brings.

“Matt’s done an amazing job and doesn’t get the recognition for his years of dedication to the women’s game,” she says. “He knows what he wants from his teams. He’s a good human being and animated on the touchline.

“I think Liverpool with a little bit more time will challenge. They’ve been difficult for every opponent they faced. It’s not just about what they do defensively, they got a lot of threats going forward.”

She adds, laughing: “I got told today, that they haven’t been given a penalty in two years. I hope I’m not going to jinx that now, especially after the last week.”

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Sky Sports’ Anton Toloui and Oliver Yew discuss the controversial game that took Chelsea out of the Champions League and Barcelona into the final

Much of Chelsea’s yo-yo season comes down to the number of injuries they have accumulated.

The absence of Sam Kerr and Mia Fishel due to ACL injuries has been a huge blow to the defending champions. With further news of Mayra Ramirez being unavailable for a must-win game against Liverpool, Hayes is focused on making the best of a difficult situation.

“We’ve been without key players in key areas. Of course, that takes its toll because they’re not just players,” Hayes says. “Some of them are real leaders, but the team has to find ways and it’s something we’ve done over the years.

“There is no guarantee that you’re going to win things for sure. But you absolutely have to put everything into it until the end. We have a fighting chance of a title.”

The return of Chelsea captain Millie Bright is a silver lining after a turbulent few months, Hayes’s admiration for her skipper is felt as she smiles and recalls how Bright’s presence has been missed both on and off the pitch.

“I listened to her in training today,” Hayes says. “Whether it’s instructions she’s giving to players around what to do, or staying on top of the right information, she’s a leader and a big vocal presence. I think that has been a huge loss for the team; [I’m] very happy to have her back.”

Twists, turns and surprises are synonymous with previous WSL title races and it’s no surprise that Hayes’ penultimate season with Chelsea is packed with more tension as the finish line looms.

With only four games remaining and a six-point deficit to make up, can Chelsea do the impossible and sign Hayes off in style?

She’s confident that her team can “dig deep” to make it happen.

WSL title race – analysis and remaining fixtures

Chelsea and Manchester City are fighting it out in a two-horse race for the Women’s Super League title – but who is most likely to take the crown come May?

We take a look at both sides’ prospects as the season reaches its final month…

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