Inside Chelsea’s two-year unbeaten run: Can anyone stop them?

Chelsea Women's unbeaten WSL run

In a week where the men’s side once again demonstrated their impatience and volatility, Emma Hayes has proven just how successful stability can be for Chelsea.

Hayes has resided over the women’s team since 2012, steadily forging a reputation as one of the very best managers in the game. That reputation took another huge leap forward on Wednesday night, following the Blues’ WSL victory over Aston Villa — a comfortable 4-0 away win.

The result saw Chelsea break the league record for the longest unbeaten run, marking exactly two years since they last tasted defeat. Unsurprisingly, Hayes’ team are currently top of table, with a game in hand over second-placed Manchester United, who they also recently beat 2-1 in what felt like a season-defining match.

To put their achievement into perspective, the run has included: 25 wins in 32 games, 105 goals from 21 different goal scorers, and delivered the club a WSL trophy.

Indeed, the reigning champions now look well on course to retain their league crown, but what makes Chelsea such a formidable side? GiveMeSport took a closer look in search of the answers.

The Experience and Genius of Emma Hayes

Emma Hayes team talk Chelsea Women

It’s been a remarkable eight-and-a-half years at Chelsea for Hayes. Born in North London, she moved to the U.S. after her education in search of gaining some invaluable managerial experience.

A five-year stint — firstly in charge of Long Island Rough Riders and then Iona College — proved to be sufficient grounding before she returned to England and landed the assistant manager’s role at Arsenal between 2006 and 2008.

It’s impossible to overstate just how important those two years would later become in Hayes’ coaching development. Arsenal remained unbeaten in the league throughout her entire tenure, a run that well exceeded Chelsea’s current streak (although the Gunners’ record of 108 league games undefeated predates the WSL).

Working under legendary manager Vic Akers, Hayes learnt first-hand just what it took to assemble an all-conquering side. Having rejected the chance to succeed Akers, confessing to The Independent that “Arsenal had won everything and I didn’t feel challenged,” Hayes duly turned to West London in the hope of building her own dynasty.

Nearly a decade on, it’s impossible to dispute that Hayes has achieved just that. Chelsea have won everything, barring the Champions League, and have well and truly become the standard bearers of English football in the modern era.

“This team will go down in history, I’m certain of it,” Hayes told Chelsea TV in the aftermath of their record-breaking win against Villa. “I know sometimes when you’re winning there’s that expectation that you’re just going to keep doing it, but this is the best Chelsea team I’ve ever had.”

As reported by The Athletic, there were even calls for Hayes to replace Frank Lampard as Chelsea men’s manager, prior to the recent appointment of former Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel.

That may have seemed a longshot, but given Hayes’ standing within the club, there is a genuine expectation internally that she could one day become the first female to manage a Premier League side.

The Person Behind the Player

Samm Kerr and Chelsea Women teammates

Talent is, of course, a prerequisite for any form of long-term success, but the real key to Chelsea’s feat has been the people behind the professionals. More than simply buying gifted players who fit the team’s structure, Chelsea’s recruitment works on a human-first level.

When asked how Chelsea so often get their signings right, Hayes responded: “Because at the heart of it I pick good humans. If I feel in the recruitment process that someone’s not committed to the same ambitions, they’re not committed to the same ideas around the team, I won’t bring them to the club. There are some top, top players that aren’t in a Chelsea shirt for that reason.”

That much was evidenced earlier this month, in the January transfer window, when the club chose to allow defender Maria Thorisdottir to join WSL rivals Manchester United.

“Maria’s contract was up in six months,” Hayes explained to The Times. “So I always think when you’ve got a player in your environment that you know is not following in the same level as everybody else and their heart is elsewhere, then the last thing I want to do is compromise our environment.”

Comparisons are regularly drawn between Hayes’ time at Chelsea and the iconic reign of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and it’s easy to see why. The notion of putting team cohesion above all else and sticking to the line that ‘no one player is bigger than the club’ were both hallmarks of Ferguson’s career.

Watertight Defence

Magdalena Eriksson and Millie Bright Chelsea Women

‘Defence wins championships’ is a well-worn adage of the English game, and at Chelsea, there’s no disputing their defensive credentials. The Blues have conceded the fewest goals in the WSL this season, only letting in six over the course of 11 matches thus far.

The club has firepower in abundance — with a plethora of attacking talent, from England internationals Bethany England and Fran Kirby, to foreign superstars Sam Kerr and record signing Pernille Harder — but it’s the backline that truly makes this Chelsea side a winning machine.

The defence is built on the foundation of two quality goalkeepers, in the form of Carly Telford and Ann-Katrin Berger, while the entire defensive unit tends to orbit around centre-backs Millie Bright and club captain Magdalena Eriksson.

The partnership and understanding between Bright and Eriksson is one of the key factors when it comes to Chelsea’s ability to continually win game after game. While the forwards often blow teams out the water, it’s the team’s rearguard that steers the ship through choppier tides.

“I want to be unbeaten in the league,” Bright told COPA90 in an interview last year. “From a defensive point, I think we’ve got the ability to do that here.” Based on how the last two years have gone, only a fool would bet against her.

With the club never having won a major European competition, the Champions League now marks the final frontier for this Chelsea side. However, after ruthlessly dispatching Portuguese champions Benfica 8-0 on aggregate in the Round of 32, there’s a growing feeling the Blues can go deep into the tournament this year — and possibly even challenge seven-time winners, Olympique Lyonnais, for glory.

With their new undefeated record in the bank, Emma Hayes orchestrating proceedings at the helm, a group of players who all buy into a shared vision, and one of the meanest defences around, anything now feels possible.

News Now - Sport News