“I love the group stage. Such a great idea. It was so needed, and it’s really helped. I think it will help every team and develop the pool of quality teams across Europe.”
As the Champions League returned for its final two match days in the Group stage, Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes, made a ringing endorsement for the competition’s new format. Drama, high quality football, big stadia, increased visibility and much more – the Champions League Group Stage has had it all. As the final games of this new addition come to an end, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on what a brilliant adaptation it has been.
It’s the nature of football at this time of year that as soon as one game is done, the following one is no more than 72 hours round the corner.
And so it is for Chelsea this week. Sunday’s FA Cup winners move swiftly onto the next challenge with the arrival of Juventus and a chance to qualify for the latter stages of the Champions League. It is a situation this team and their manager, Emma Hayes, are very much used to and at this point comfortable with: “We’ve been here so many times and because of that, we just know how to do it. It’s not unusual for us anymore to be in a Cup Final at Wembley and play three days later. This is normal for us, so I think it’s just business as usual.”
As we reflect back on 2021, the return of youth-level football on an international stage has to be one of the highlights. With tournaments cancelled for over a year due to coronavirus, football federations have had to play catch up as a generation of young footballers missed out on the traditional pathways to develop their trade.
“Credit to the players. They decided they wanted to go up a level and my job’s just to put the challenge there to them. I thought we were outstanding”.
Back to their best, Chelsea entertained everyone, including their manager Emma Hayes, as they breezed past Servette in Geneva, inspired by the partnership of Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr.
A historic moment awaits Wales this international camp as they play their 200th international fixture against Slovenia on Friday evening.