Emma Hayes reacts to Melanie Leupolz's Chelsea return after birth of child

Leupolz made her first Chelsea appearance since giving birth in October
Leupolz made her first Chelsea appearance since giving birth in October / Alex Pantling/GettyImages

Melanie Leupolz made her first Chelsea appearance in over 12 months on Sunday when she entered the fray for the final seven minutes of her side's 3-2 FA Cup fourth round victory over Liverpool.

Leupolz announced in March 2022 that she was expecting her first child, and she gave birth in October. She had last featured for the Blues in December 2021.

The midfielder returned to full first team training in January and subsequently signed a new long-term contract with Chelsea to keep her at the club until 2026.

"It's brilliant," said Hayes. "She needs time, you can see that from today, going into a game like that. But she's doing everything she can, probably not sleeping a lot, trying to figure that out, how to do it all, but we're so delighted to have her back."

General manager Paul Green had explained in October that the club had not put pressure on Leupolz to return within a certain timeframe - it was all down to when she felt physically and mentally ready.

The Germany international joined Chelsea from Bayern Munich in 2020 and was a pivotal part of the Blues title winning campaign during her debut season in west London.

"It was really special," Leupolz told Chelsea club media at full-time. "It's just nice being back with the team, competing for titles. Competing with the team [is what I've missed] because you can always train by yourself but it's not that much fun like training with your teammates.

"[Being a mother is] interesting and of course exhausting but it's lovely, and I love to combine both. I'm happy to be with the team again and having my little child so everything is good."

Leupolz was on the field to see her side survive a late Liverpool fightback and book their FA Cup fifth round place thanks to a Sam Kerr hat-trick.

Kadeisha Buchanan was withdrawn at half time, with Magdalena Eriksson coming on in her place, and Hayes explained that this was due to a hamstring problem as opposed to a tactical decision - but that it was nothing serious.

"Her hamstring was tight," the Blues boss added. "I think more precautionary than anything else. I think it's just she can feel it and we took the decision - we're not taking any risks."