Emma Hayes believes Chelsea will have to be prepared for a “chess match” against Manchester City in what is anticipated to be the largest crowd for a Women’s FA Cup final.
Chelsea are bidding for a domestic double, having already captured a third successive Women’s Super League crown, and give a fitting farewell to outgoing trio Ji So-yun, Drew Spence and Jonna Andersson.
But while Chelsea defeated City in both WSL matches this season, Gareth Taylor’s side have been rejuvenated in recent months and prevailed when the teams met in the Continental Cup final in March.
Hayes therefore knows City have the ability to frustrate Chelsea in a game for which more than 50,000 tickets have already been sold at Wembley Stadium, with the current record attendance for a Women’s FA Cup final standing at 45,423 – when the Blues beat Arsenal in 2018 at the same venue.
“This is a chess match,” said the Chelsea boss. “We’ve got our strengths that could expose them and they’ve got theirs that could expose us and that’s what you want from a football match.
“I just know I’ve got a plan and it’s important for the team to realise we have to suffer, too. They possess the ball very well and we’re not always going to have it, so we’ll have to be disciplined.
“Everyone in this dressing room knows how good those players are. We knew the setbacks were temporary, and everyone in my dressing room rates Manchester City.
“This is a team that this second half of the season have been absolutely outstanding. The women’s game wins again on Sunday, hopefully with a record crowd and two amazing teams full of talent.”
Hayes has already confirmed Fran Kirby will be available for the defending FA Cup champions after training all this week – although she cautioned not to expect too much from the England forward ahead of this summer’s European Championship.
“Fran knows herself well enough now at this stage that she will want to be 100 per cent if she’s to play for England in the summer,” said Hayes of Kirby, who has been sidelined since February because of a fatigue-related issue.
“If she’s not, she’ll be the first to admit it because she doesn’t want to let the team down.
“I’ve learned to take it one week at a time. I didn’t think she’d be available this week, let’s put it that way.”
Manchester City go into the final in good nick, having won 21 of their last 23 matches in all competitions and are currently on a 13-game unbeaten stretch, which helped them earn a third-placed finish in the WSL to secure Champions League football next season.
Their unbeaten spell also includes lifting the Continental Cup after beating Chelsea 3-1, and City boss Taylor praised his players for continuing to maintain their focus throughout this period.
He said: “We have one more opportunity to keep building on it, to stretch our unbeaten run.
“We’ve always just focused on the next game and what that game is – whether it’s a Conti Cup game or WSL game, an FA Cup game – I think we’ve been really good at maintaining the focus and not getting too excited about what that game is and what potentially we could do.
“The group of staff have done really well and the players have kept their focus and again, we’re not going into a situation we haven’t been in before I think that gives us the confidence, a calmness, and we’re just really looking forward to the game on Sunday.”
Taylor also revealed that Demi Stokes and Jess Park are back in contention ahead of the final, while Karen Bardsley, Esme Morgan and Steph Houghton are still sidelined.