Ladies preview: So little to separate the sides

Emma Hayes expects Chelsea Ladies Women’s FA Cup semi-final against Man City at Kingsmeadow to be decided by a moment of magic.

The WSL1’s top two sides meet for the fourth time in 2018 and in the previous three matches there has been virtually nothing to separate us.

Nadia Nadim scored the only goal of the Continental Tyres Cup semi-final in January, although the Blues missed two open goals in that game, and then both league meetings finished all-square, despite us leading 2-0 at the Academy Stadium.

‘As we’ve seen from all the games between the sides, there’s just so little to separate us,’ said Hayes. ‘That’s why they are always closely contested games. There’s international quality on both sides, a huge amount of mutual respect and a lot of the players know each other well.

‘It’s just a battle between the players on the day, because there’s nothing about Man City that we don’t already know, and vice versa. It’s about who shows up and produces the magic moment or two. And, importantly, don’t make mistakes; the game is that tight, there’s little room for error.’

Hayes has overseen two Women’s FA Cup semi-final wins over City as Chelsea manager, including in 2015, when a late goal from Ji So-Yun secured our place in the first final held at Wembley. Although the South Korean subsequently scored the winner against Notts County to deliver the club’s maiden trophy, her manager feels the last-four strike was of greater importance.

‘I think that was Ji’s biggest goal in a Chelsea shirt – and there’s been a few – because it started the trophy trend,’ she said.

‘The current team features lots of players have stepped up at different times to produce magic moments. You saw even in the last game against City, Millie Bright did it.

‘We have many goalscorers in the team and the players are in a confident place at the moment. We know we’re playing well, on the back of that five-game stretch that took a lot out of us, but also gave us belief that we’re very tough to beat.

‘That becomes the starting point – make it hard for the opposition, and we know we’ve got enough quality going forward.’

And the big games keep on coming, with a vital WSL1 match against Everton in midweek followed by the first leg of our Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg, which takes place next Sunday at Kingsmeadow.

‘This is what the players and staff have worked so hard for, to be in a position where we’re competing on all fronts,’ Hayes added. ‘Now it’s about how quickly we can recover between games, and to keep the motivation levels high so we produce top-level performances every game.

‘It’s not going to be easy and it’s not just about City – we’ve got Wolfsburg, the title run-in. We have to be really switched on.’

Chelsea Ladies v Man City Women at Kingsmeadow kicks off at 3.30pm. The match is live on BBC2.