Off the back of a shaky return to play in the FA Cup last weekend, Chelsea Women head back into the confides of Stamford Bridge for an encounter with Marc Skinner's Manchester United. It is the beginning of a 14-day stretch in which the club has five matches. Two in the UEFA Women's Champions League. Three in the Women's Super League. The next time the Blues will have a full week to prepare for a match will be between February 5-10, after the WSL fixture against Everton and before the FA Cup clash vs. Championship side Crystal Palace.
It may be hard to believe, but it has been over a month since Emma Hayes' side suited up for a league fixture. A surprise Arsenal result in north London prior to the Chels' three-goal triumph over Bristol City has the west Londoners three points ahead of second-place Manchester City. Even with the gap, no lead is safe anymore in this league. Hayes gave her take on what this has looked like this year in the latest press conference.
"The rest of the league is at a much higher level than it has ever been, so we're playing a West Ham team full of internationals. Nine internationals on the pitch, we're playing a quality team. We're not entitled to qualify because we've been there in the past," Hayes said. "Even though our expectation is to progress, the realities are everyone has gone up a level. Everyone in our group has to find that individually first, and then collectively."
United had a far more routine match in the FA Cup compared to the Chels against FA Women's National League North side Newcastle United Women. Two goals by ex-Lyon forward Nikita Parris captained a dominant performance in Manchester. In terms of the WSL, the Red Devils have dropped two out of their last four including a tough one-goal defeat on home soil to Liverpool in which it squandered a first-half advantage.