BY PAUL LAGAN
Chelsea boss Emma Hayes believes that her current squad is the best in Europe, and that her gentle treatment of striker Fran Kirby to help her recover properly from a niggling hamstring injury will see her shine for club and country in this summer’s World Cup in France.
Having seen her charges romp home in style tonight – beating Reading 4-0 in the Continental Cup with a brace of goals from Kirby and a strike from Anita Asante and Ali Riley, Hayes was naturally delighted and particularly pleased with the start – Kirby ramming the ball home after three minutes.
“I never remember goals,” she confessed, “But that’s two games in a row we had a fast start.
“That makes it difficult for the opposition. We were clinical around the box, I think if we had come in at half time only 1-0 up, I would have been disappointed.
“The two-goal cushion, gave us what we needed. It meant they had to come out a little bit more. The game then got a bit tired. I had a lot of players who haven’t played a lot of 90 minutes and I had to push them.”
Of Kirby who made her first start since November in the win at West Ham, Hayes revealed: “Fran had some tightness around her hamstring at that point and so had to develop some strength around it.
“We made a collective decision (to pull her out from playing for Chelsea) with England in mind. Fran has a World Cup coming up.
“I have a responsibility to England. I feel we have the quality in the squad to allow me to do that.
“I’m English, I want our country to win the World Cup – our game benefits from it, and if I can do anything to help (manager) Phil Neville I will.”
One player hoping to make the squad announce this week was striker Bethany England, but she failed to make the squad for the warm weather training to Qatar next week.
“I can’t control those decisions,” said Hayes.
“All I can ask is Beth keeps doing what she’s been doing. Phil’s in a World Cup year. I suppose he has his group in mind, and it’s hard for a player outside of that. But I have no doubt that Beth will make that level.”
Chelsea face Arsenal on Sunday in the WSL1 – the Blues were humiliated 5-0 by the league leaders early in the season – the Blues only defeat this campaign.
But Hayes is ready for the challenge.
“This is the best squad I have ever worked with,”. She said. “It’s one of the best in Europe if not the best squad in Europe.
“And the performance tonight shows that.
“In the time I’ve been here, we have got progressively better.
“The clean sheet record is absolutely phenomenal. I’m not saying it will survive, but we make it so hard on teams. And If we want to close the gap on the teams above us, that’s our priority.”