Emma Hayes is an intriguing football coach who is currently coaching Chelsea Women, where she's won 9 trophies since 2015, making her the most successful coach in Chelsea's club history and has cemented her status as a true great within the women's game.
Haye's Chelsea side are currently sitting 1st in the Women's Super League, just 2 points ahead of Manchester City and if that final game is won, that'll see Chelsea top the Super League and claim their 4th league title in 5 years.
For much of their dominance domestically, they haven't been able to replicate that success into Europe, but they have a chance this season. Now in the Final of the UEFA Champions League, the first female coach in 12 years to do so, they meet Barcelona and can become the first English side to win the competition since Arsenal in 2007. And with that, here is a tactical analysis of Emma Hayes's Chelsea side.
Emma Hayes is a fan of attractive and offensive football; having worked at Arsenal, she's also been influenced by Arsene Wenger. And it's the fluid attacking football that's she tries to bring to her Chelsea side, which is a joy to watch and is surely a joy to play in. Emma Hayes occasionally has set up in a 4-4-2/4-3-1-2 formation this season, but the formation primarily used is the 4-2-3-1, which transforms into a 4-2-4 when Chelsea are in possession with the wingers inverting and gives them a solid foundation to be on the front foot.
Chelsea under Hayes are an attacking side, even more so in the 4-2-3-1 as this enables them to press high more effectively than when using the 4-3-1-2. You could then say the 4-3-1-2 is a more reserved system as Chelsea now can block off routes centrally, but in either system, it's clear to see Chelsea have worked out a way to get the best from their star attacking players. Those star players are the league's joint top-scorer Sam Kerr, the creative forward Fran Kirby, the advanced playmaker Pernille Harder and the excellent Erin Cuthbert. Bethany England has also performed to a high standard when in the side.
All part from Sam Kerr are very versatile, which aids in Chelsea's quick passing combination between the four in attack, causing nightmares for the opposing defence. The intriguing partnership between Kirby, Harder and Cuthbert allow Chelsea to attack the opponent's defence in various ways. Kirby and Cuthbert on the flanks have excellent off-the-ball movement, but it's their triangular shape with Harder that proves to be too difficult and creates a heavy presence in and around the box with Sam Kerr on the shoulder of defences.
Fran Kirby is creating 6.15 shot-creating actions per 90 and is truly one of the leagues top talents.
Their main route to attack is through central areas, but this may be a natural result due to Chelsea's wingers inverting. Placing their key players centrally can install some doubt in the opponent's defensive plan. Suppose the opponents choose to pack out the central areas and defend narrow. In that case, this could leave space for the full-backs, typically Maren Mjelde and Jonna Andersson, to exploit the wider areas or a striker to drift wide where Chelsea can send in their dangerous crosses. Chelsea cross the ball 14.3 times per 90 (2nd most in the WSL), and with their smart off-ball-movement from their offensive players combined with the quality of crossers and finishers within the squad, you can see why they've been effective from crossing this season.
Chelsea in possession and going forward are proving to be too difficult to handle in the Women's Super League. On average, they have 59% of the ball in possession, mostly attempting short to medium passes (5-30 yards). Surprisingly enough, though, they also play the most longer passes per 90 with 122.8, impressively completing 81.4% of those longer passes aiding their unpredictability in attack. They're also a clinical side when they break their opponents down. Chelsea have scored 64 goals, joint with City. They have the highest xG in the league too, not only are they just a positive side, but they create excellent goal-scoring chances, and the likes of Sam Kerr have no problems burying those chances.
OFF THE BALL
Emma Hayes's Chelsea side tend to defend in a mid to high block where they complete most of their tackles within the mid 1/3 and the attacking 1/3. Against teams who play out from the back, Chelsea's attacking players block routes centrally, forcing the opponents to use the wider spaces, increasing the likeliness of forcing a mistake. In the 4-2-3-1, the attacking midfielder will join the striker in a double press forcing the opponents to play wide, where the wingers will then look to intercept a pass to the opponent's full-backs or press them aggressively to win the ball. If the opponents bypass the press, then Chelsea's defensive players will adopt a tight-marking system, ensuring they stay compact and not leave any gaps between the lines.
Chelsea boats the best defence in the league, having only conceded 10 goals in 21 games along with an xGA of 12.00, again, topping the charts. In games, it's Chelsea who have most of the ball and don't have to do that much defending, and when they do, most of it is the attacking 1/3. In particular, Fran Kirby and Beth England have played significant roles in winning the ball back high for Chelsea. Per 90, Beth England completed 11.8 pressures in the final 1/3; only one other player who has played 10 or more has completed a higher number of pressures in the final 1/3. Fran Kirby comes in second for Chelsea, with 9.86. But when it comes to tackling, it's Pernille Harder who's completed the most in the final 1/3 for Chelsea with 1.02 per 90 and Erin Cuthbert coming in 2nd with 0.83.
So it's clear for me, that defensively the attacking players are crucial and that Chelsea really do defend from the front.
To conclude, Chelsea is in a great position to win both the WSL and UEFA Women's Champions League, ending a remarkable season for Hayes and Chelsea. She's remained flexible tactically, switching between a fair share of formations but with the same game-plan, which is to be brave and adventurous on the ball and aggressive when the ball has been lost. With a goalscorer in Sam Kerr in the side and Fran Kirby, who's been tremendous at both goal-scoring and providing, Chelsea can go into their final with great confidence. Still, the future for Chelsea's Women side is looking very bright, with Chelsea seemingly improving year by year, and Emma Hayes' reputation is continuously growing along with the women's game.
Thank you for reading my tactical analysis on Emma Haye's Chelsea side. I hope you've enjoyed it, and if you're into FM, I hope you enjoy the Emma Hayes inspired 4-2-3-1 tactic.