Chelsea’s Women’s Super League title defence got off to a shaky start as they succumbed to a 3-2 defeat against Arsenal at the Emirates last Sunday.
A controversial goal by Gunners forward Beth Mead, which appeared to be offside on replay, proved to be the difference between the two teams and Blues head coach Emma Hayes will be desperate for a response this weekend.
Hayes’ side face a tricky Everton side at home on Sunday. The Toffees suffered a 4-0 defeat to Man City in their first game but were tipped to be top four contenders at the start of the season.
The Chelsea boss has a big decision to make in terms of her team selection. Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr, two of the Blues’ most influential players, both started on the bench last week.
Speaking in her post match press conference gainst Arsenal, Hayes stressed that some members of the squad deserved a break after playing at the Olympics this summer, hence why the likes of Kirby and Kerr missed out on the starting 11.
“My players got a break,” she said. “After a long 18 months, think of the players that didn’t get a break. They might be okay today, but these professional players are putting in a lot of time.”
Having been asked why certain players started on the bench, the Blues head coach explained she felt obliged to reward those who had worked hard in training.
“You can’t expect the players who have been playing for seven weeks pushing their levels to a certain point are going to be ahead of the players that have just returned.”
But how long will it take for the typical personnel to move back “ahead” in the pecking order? Kerr and Kirby were both brought on against the Gunners in the 56th minute and showed glimpses of their brilliant best, yet there was still a sense they were lacking match sharpness.
While Hayes might well have been inclined to give her stars more of a rest, the result against Arsenal means Chelsea no longer have room for error. One loss is not disastrous, but it’s vital the Blues don’t fall even further behind the leaders this early on in the season.
So Chelsea are likely to be at full strength on Sunday. And while Hayes may believe that bringing players back too quickly can have an impact long term –– for now, results in the short term are the main priority.