Chelsea Ladies v Kristianstads …

Chelsea Ladies play their final tune-up fixture for the squad ahead of the 2017 campaign as the Blues welcome one of Sweden’s top sides to Wheatsheaf Park.

They take on Doncaster Rovers Belles a week later in a Women’s FA Cup match which also takes place at the home of Staines Town, but Hayes wants her side to play this friendly as if it were the opening match of the season.

‘This is another top Swedish club we are facing in a pre-season schedule which has been full of tough tests to get us ready for the new campaign,’ said the manager.

‘It’s the last game before the start of the season, which means it is a final chance for players to stake a claim for a place in the team for the FA Cup match against Donny next week.

‘I want them to treat this like a competitive match and I want to see everything we’ve worked on in training come to fruition.

‘I think it’s clear the standard in our environment has been raised once again. The group have to get fitter, that’s a certainty, but they’re working towards that.

‘The standard required to get into the team now is much higher, especially on a physical level but also tactically. The game is evolving and you have to be equally good both sides of the ball. The players have to work towards mastering both areas of their play in those areas if they want to be considered.

‘It’s fair to say the team as a whole has worked really hard this pre-season, but it’s also clear we’ve got a lot to improve on if we’re going to go one step further this year. It’s been a good start, but I think in general there is still a lot of room to improve the fitness levels of the team.’

Hayes received some positive news on the injury front this past week, as two key players returned to full training after missing much of pre-season.

‘Fran Kirby and Gilly Flaherty are back working with the squad, which is great for us.

‘Fran doesn’t look like she’s been away for the best part of the year, she’s looked superb since returning.

‘Credit to her, but also a big thank you to the medical staff who have got her back sooner than we expected after her latest setback.

‘It’s not easy when you’ve been out that long to keep putting in rehab for five hours every day. She’s applied herself and that’s the reason she’s ready for the Spring Series.

‘It’s exciting to have her back in the group because it’s like having a new signing.’

Hayes has five of those in her squad for the new season, having brought in Ramona Bachmann, Deanna Cooper, Erin Cuthbert, Crystal Dunn and Maren Mjelde during the break.

She has been pleased with the early performances of each of them and is excited by what they could bring to a squad which is undoubtedly the strongest in the Ladies’ history.

‘Credit should go to the existing players as they’ve made it so easy for the new players to settle in.

‘All of the signings have commented on how friendly and open everyone has been to welcome them. They have told me the team spirit is good and they’ve been made to feel part of the Chelsea family quite quickly. That always helps.

‘Because of that, we’re certainly getting rewarded on the pitch, because all five of them have made invaluable contributions over the pre-season and are certainly going to elevate our game to another level.’

[COPY – Chelsea Ladies FC webpage]

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