Emma Hayes set for blockbuster ending after 96 hours that saved Chelsea's season

Emma Hayes
Emma Hayes gave a rousing speech after Chelsea's win over Bristol City -Credit:Visionhaus/Getty Images

It was an encore in keeping with Emma Hayes' remarkable Chelsea tenure.

As the Blues boss stepped out for one final time onto the Kingsmeadow turf - the sound of Tina Turner's 'Simply the Best' blasting over the Tannoy system - it felt like this was what she had been planning all along. A consummate entertainer until the very last, Hayes gave a rousing address that was as much a warning as it was a rallying cry.

"Let me be clear. It is not f****** over," she said, pausing for dramatic effect as the home support erupted. "There is no time for sentimentality. All work drinks are cancelled, there is a title to be won."

After 12 intoxicating years at Chelsea, it should have surprised no one that Hayes had no intention of quietly exiting stage left. But, after the palpable despondency that had followed the Blues' shock defeat to Liverpool just four days prior, surely few would have predicted how abruptly the tide would turn.

It was there on Merseyside that Hayes had waved the white flag, declaring the title race over after a stoppage-time header from Reds defender Gemma Bonner had condemned the reigning champions to a third Women's Super League (WSL) defeat of the season. "I think the title is done," the Chelsea boss had said after the game.

"Of course, mathematically it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult."

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Certainly, the Chelsea players had seemed to share that sentiment, with many of them in tears after the final whistle at Prenton Park. They did not look like the battle-hardened winners Hayes has worked to carefully cultivate during her time at the club, instead appearing physically drained and emotionally spent.

There was, admittedly, some logic to their disappointment. The defeat had left them six points adrift of City, who were also eight goals better off than their title rivals. Even though Chelsea had a game in hand, City's advantage was convincing enough to ensure that Opta's Supercomputer gave them a 90.7 percent chance of winning the league.

Still, it was a curiously histrionic response from a team who have swept all before them in recent years, winning four consecutive WSL titles along the way. Hayes, too, had seemed devoid of her usual fire, roping in 20-year-old striker Aggie Beever-Jones to help her with post-match media duties and striking a reflective, almost philosophical, tone in front of the TV cameras.

"Weird," was the succinct assessment of the Chelsea boss' behaviour from Sky Sports pundit Karen Carney. "You've got games left, Arsenal still have to play City but you've told the whole world it's over. That's not like her usually. It's weird."

While Hayes' defeatist attitude was the subject of much post-match debate, it felt in accord with the increasingly bizarre nature of the manager's protracted Chelsea goodbye. Over the course of the past two months, the Blues have evolved from being touted to win the Quadruple to staring down the barrel of their first trophyless season in half a decade.

They lost the Continental League Cup final to Arsenal before crashing out in the semi-finals of the FA Cup and Champions League to Manchester United and Barcelona respectively. And, while Chelsea have toiled on the pitch, Hayes has found herself in the eye of a succession of media storms off it.

First, there were her controversial comments on player-to-player relationships which sparked some mutiny within her own ranks, with defender Jess Carter liking a host of tweets condemning her manager for branding such relationships "inappropriate". Then there was her shove on Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall after Chelsea's Conti Cup defeat and the unsavoury allegations of male aggression that followed, as well as her decision to deflect from her own wrongdoing by reading a Robert Frost poem in a pre-match press conference.

It was fitting, then, that Hayes should elect to raise more eyebrows with her conduct on Merseyside. And yet, just 96 hours later, Chelsea were back in the driving seat with the prospect of a fifth straight WSL title appearing a distinct possibility.

Amusingly, it was Arsenal who had helped swing the pendulum back in the favour of their bitter London rivals, coming from behind to beat City 2-1 at the Joie Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Taylor's side had been winning the game in the 88th minute thanks to Lauren Hemp's classy first-half finish but were undone by two late goals from substitute Stina Blackstenius.

"I’ve always said it’ll go to the final day. Nothing will change,” Taylor told reporters after the game. “Chelsea opened the door the other night and we’ve done the same. We knew we’d have to go to Villa and win at the end of the season.”

Indeed, City's collapse gave Chelsea all the encouragement they needed to kick the proverbial door off its hinges against already-relegated Bristol City on Sunday night. The Blues took the lead in the sixth minute thanks to a Guro Reiten penalty but, not content with simply claiming the three points, they sensed an opportunity to further compound the league leaders' misery by obliterating their goal difference.

As such, Chelsea romped to an 8-0 win which means they are now a goal better off than City, with the chance to increase that advantage further in their game in hand against Tottenham Hotspur next week.

"If you told me at the beginning of the day Arsenal would beat City in the last five minutes and we would win 8-0, what are the odds of that?," Hayes said after her team's demolition of the Robins.

"That shows what happens when you have belief. I said to the players if Man City slip up we have to be ready. Today was another opportunity to get closer to something that was slipping out of our grasp. I’m super proud. Everything Chelsea represents are days like today."

Of course, nothing has been won yet and Chelsea's coronation is far from a foregone conclusion. It is City who have the points on the board ahead of their final day trip to Aston Villa and who have arguably played the better football this term.

The Blues must now navigate two tough away games against Tottenham and United if they are to deliver their totemic boss her fairytale ending. But, whatever happens next, Hayes final Chelsea act looks set to be a blockbuster.