Chelsea manager Emma Hayes has insisted that COVID-19 stress was a significant factor in her team’s group stage exit from the Women’s Champions League this week.
The Blues, who reached last season’s final, needed to avoid defeat to Wolfsburg on matchday six, or at the very least hope that Juventus failed to beat Servette in the group’s other fixture.
But Juve won comfortably against the Swiss champions, while Chelsea ultimately crumbled in Germany and were beaten 4-0 by Wolfsburg.
Wolfsburg, Juve and Chelsea all finished with 11 points, but by virtue of an inferior goal difference in matches between the three clubs, Hayes’ side was the one pushed down into third place.
After the game, the Chelsea boss pointed to the ongoing stress of the COVID-19 situation, which risks players being unable to spend Christmas with their families.
“I don't expect anybody to understand but we had 20 cases of Covid last year that saw my entire team struck off and unable to go home to see their families,” she said, via Daily Mail.
“They don't earn hundreds and thousands of pounds every week. A few days ago, we had two players struck down with Covid and we know inevitably when we land [on Friday] there will be positive cases. Our heads were all over the place. We are human beings.”
“The stress, the anxiety, the worry, of having to perform in a game when you're thinking, ‘I just want to go home, I haven't seen my family, I've been to an Olympics…another Christmas alone.’
“I'm not making an excuse for the players, but I can tell you that the last three days have been all over the place with worry that we have to play this game.”
Chelsea have one final WSL game against West Ham scheduled on Sunday, before the league’s annual winter break will see the season paused until 9 January 2022.