Chelsea boss Emma Hayes on replacing injured Sam Kerr ahead of Sunday's WSL game with Man Utd: "We've all identified the areas, but we have to put it into action. The reality is there are top players on our team who can contribute, like it was for Mia Fishel when she came off the bench"
Thursday 18 January 2024 18:51, UK
Chelsea Women can replace the injured Sam Kerr with 'top players' already at the club, boss Emma Hayes has said after the striker underwent ACL surgery this week.
Kerr has proven a talismanic figure for the Blues, scoring 58 times in 73 WSL games across four and a half seasons and twice winning the top flight's golden boot during that time.
The 30-year-old had netted four goals in eight league matches this campaign before suffering a season-ending ACL injury during Chelsea's warm-weather training camp in Morocco last week - but Hayes told reporters ahead of Sunday's crunch league clash with Man Utd there was enough quality within her squad to replace the Australia international.
"There's been good conversation this week between the team about the things we need to do," she said. "It's a collective responsibility as a team.
"We've all identified the right areas, but we have to put it into action. The reality is there are top players on our team who are capable of contributing to the goals, like it was for Mia [Fishel] when she came off the bench.
"But also Aggie Beever-Jones is producing such a goal threat every time she comes into the game, so no matter who you are, everybody has to take responsibility."
Both Fishel and Beever-Jones were on target in Chelsea's 3-1 extra-time win over West Ham in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday.
Lauren James began the victory in the number nine role and Hayes says she will continue to "consider" the England international as a striker.
Hayes said: "Lauren has a great goal threat. She has the ability to do that but it's important we're able to stretch beyond her if she's able to play that role.
"Getting those combinations right is important. Mia, Lauren and even Aggie will all play their part in the nine role but equally Lauren dropped into a 10 role in the second half and she was instrumental in our performance.
"When you lose a player like Sam Kerr you have to find other ways and sometimes you have to do that in a game to see what works, and for us we had the luxury to be able to play Lauren first half in that position and then Mia second [half] and it was enough for us to get the result.
"I think going forward those three players will be considered for that position."
Emma Hayes says Chelsea captain Millie Bright will not return before the international break.
Bright has been absent since November with a knee injury and looks set to miss England's games in late February.
Asked about Bright’s availability, Hayes said: “No chance [this weekend]. I don’t think yet.
“Do I think it will be before the international break? No, I don’t.”
A Man Utd win in this weekend's game would bring Marc Skinner's side back within three points of the WSL leaders at the halfway point in the season, though they come into the game on the back of a shock home defeat to Liverpool last time out.
Hayes, who said she was taking "nothing for granted" despite Chelsea's three-point lead at the top of the table, praised their visitors' attacking options, after they added Barcelona forward Geyse and World Cup 2023 Golden Boot winner Hinata Miyazawa to their forward ranks last summer.
"They know how to stay in that race, and there are still many turns to happen across the rest of the season," she said. "They have more goal threats than they've ever had, so I don't underestimate Man Utd.
"They're in the title race considering the number of players they've signed and the quality they've got."
ACL injuries were a significant topic of debate during this summer's Women's World Cup after England's Beth Mead and Leah Williamson, Vivianne Miedema of the Netherlands and Canada's Janine Beckie were forced to miss the tournament.
Global soccer players union FIFPRO has said increased workload, travel and insufficient rest have contributed to an increase in injuries, including torn ACLs, among female players.
In December, European soccer governing body UEFA introduced a women's health expert panel to seek a deeper understanding of ACL injuries and their occurrence in the women's game.
Speaking last week, Hayes added: "I've said many times, this is not the moment to talk about how those things happen. Injuries do happen in men's and women's football.
"I think sometimes we have a confirmation bias around ACL injuries, but they happen in the sport, regardless of why they happen.
"She's with her Chelsea family and she knows we'll look after her.
"I know Sam would expect me to say nothing less - our focus has got to be on the players that are fit. We have a quality squad and it's a good challenge for me as a coach to find solutions. I trust in the squad we have and we've added to that as well."
Sky Sports' Charlotte Marsh:
"For the most part, Chelsea have avoided the glut of ACL injuries that have plagued other teams around them, especially at Arsenal and Manchester United recently.
"But now, they have lost one of their most important players to the dreaded knee injury.
"It means Kerr, who has been synonymous with Hayes' success at Chelsea over the last few years, won't be able to help the team win the trophies that would send the manager out on a high.
"The Champions League remains the one trophy Hayes hasn't won with the Blues, and Kerr has already scored five goals in four European games this season. She has been a key part of Chelsea's progress so far and it seems strange that if the Blues are to finally win the trophy, Kerr will have no further part.
"Add to that their defence of the WSL and FA Cup, plus their bid for another Conti Cup title, it's set to be a hectic final four months of the season and a less than ideal moment to lose a player of such quality.
"But while it is a huge blow not only for Kerr, Hayes and Chelsea, the Blues have coped without their star striker before. There are few who can do what she can, but this is why you have squad depth and Chelsea's will be tested now.
"Kerr missed much of Australia's World Cup campaign last summer with injury, and needed further recovery heading into the new campaign.
"But she has started in seven of her eight WSL appearances, with four goals and three assists, showing just how - even when not at her free-scoring best - pivotal she remains to Chelsea's play.
"In the absence of another injured player - Blues captain Millie Bright - Kerr has taken on the captains armband. While Bright is expected to return when the season resumes in a few weeks' time, Chelsea will miss Kerr's leadership at the top end of the pitch.
"Her presence and threat to opposing defenders will be a huge miss too, although such is Chelsea's depth, you do not expect their form to dip too far.
"While there is no doubt it is a huge blow, the Blues have other potent threats in their ranks. The likes of Lauren James, Aggie Beever-Jones and Mia Fischel are all capable of playing through the middle - and let's not forget, the transfer window is not over yet.
"Hayes will have been acutely aware that injuries - especially ACLs - can happen at any time, and how they plan to shape up without Kerr will likely be a focus of the current Morocco training camp.
"It remains to be seen how that will affect them on the pitch, but whatever their success this season, Kerr will unfortunately play no further part."