WSL round-up: Hayes calls on clubs to support pregnant players
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes has called on Women’s Super League clubs to offer more support to players returning from maternity leave.
Blues midfielder Melanie Leupolz, who gave birth late last year, made her first start for the club in 2023 in their 3-1 win over Brighton.
Hayes, 46, told Sky Sports: "If a player tears her ACL, you do everything possible to get them back on the pitch in nine to 12 months.
"We should be exactly the same with a woman that has a baby, but we don’t. I think we have to ask ourselves more seriously why that is.
"We pride ourselves on leading the way and I know the job done with Melanie is the best we possibly could do."
Pregnancy among WSL players has been under the spotlight recently, with an FA directive on maternity rights only recently coming into play.
Under the new policy, stars going on maternity leave will be paid 100% of their weekly wage for the first 14 weeks.
It had previously been down to the clubs’ discretion to deal with each instance on an individual basis.
German midfielder Leupolz has spoken highly of how Chelsea handled the situation throughout her pregnancy.
The 28-year-old said: "Other clubs should take Chelsea as an [example] and ask questions about how we did it because, in my experience, they were super.
"Emma has a child herself and she knows what’s important. We had a catch-up every two weeks, talked about my training programme and how I can get back to my strength and fitness after birth."
Chelsea’s convincing 3-1 win over the Seagulls took the champions to within one point of WSL leaders Manchester United with a game in hand.
Guro Reiten and Jess Carter were on target in the first half at Kingsmeadow before Johanna Rytting Kaneryd added a third in the 71th minute, with Danielle Carter pulling one back for the visitors.
Hayes previously questioned her side’s desire after Sunday’s disappointing Continental Cup final defeat to Arsenal and was delighted to see her players bounce back.
On the victory, the Blues boss added: "It was a great response. I was really pleased with the team. They are a wonderful group of women. They responded in the way that we all wanted them to.
"They are upset about conceding a sloppy goal late on. I have to accept that after making defensive changes but we needed to make changes as we have a massive game at the weekend."
Leaders United are next to visit Kingsmeadow on Sunday for a blockbuster clash in the WSL title race.
On the showdown with Marc Skinner’s side, Hayes said: "We know it will be a sell-out here on Sunday. It'll be a great game. We have a plan for them but I'm not going to talk about that on TV!"
Gunners stay in touch
Arsenal followed up their cup success by beating Liverpool 2-0 to go within three points of third-placed Manchester City.
The Gunners led inside half an hour as Stina Blackstenius fired home a superb strike before Caitlin Foord’s effort put the hosts in control six minutes later.
Jonas Eidevall’s side remain six points off top spot but, like Chelsea, have a game in hand over both City and United as the race for the WSL crown hots up.
With Reading up next on Sunday, goalscorer Foord admitted there is little margin for error between now and the end of the season.
The 28-year-old Aussie said: "We just want to keep that momentum rolling in this game and we did that and will do moving forward.
"For us, every game now is important. We can’t really drop too many points and goals count as well so we’ve got to do everything we can to get the win and the bonus is scoring the goals."
WSL Matchday 14 results
Manchester United 5-1 Leicester
Everton 0-2 Aston Villa
Manchester City 3-1 Tottenham
Reading 2-1 West Ham
Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool
Chelsea 3-1 Brighton