Emma Hayes praised “80 per cent fit” Sam Kerr after her hat-trick helped Chelsea to a 4-1 Champions League win against Paris FC at Stamford Bridge.
Kerr has been easing back to fitness after missing most of the World Cup with injury and has made a modest start to the Women’s Super League season with only two goals so far.
But against Paris she ensured her side’s European campaign began in earnest following last week’s controversial draw with Real Madrid, though the result had looked in doubt when the visitors levelled through Thea Greboval’s header before half-time.
That cancelled out Kerr’s opener which she had prodded in on the half-hour mark after getting between goalkeeper and defender to turn home Lauren James’s superb right-footed cross.
She added quick-fire goals early in the second period to put down Paris’ resistance, the first a far-post finish from Johanna Rytting Kaneryd’s low ball in before an effort that looped over the head of goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie.
Sophie Ingle evaded her marker to roll the ball into the corner in stoppage time to add gloss to the scoreline.
And afterwards Hayes revealed she had predicted pre-match that Kerr would finally rediscover her scoring touch against the French side.
“I fancied her to score a hat-trick tonight,” said Hayes. “I said it in the dressing room before the game. She doesn’t get credit for all the other little bits she does.
“By her standards she’s not on top, top (fitness) yet, but I don’t know anyone who puts the ball away like she does. She’s so alert and decisive with her movement. Brilliant centre-forward play.
“If that’s her at 80 per cent, I’ll take that. That’s not bad. I can’t wait for the hundred per cent to come.”
Hayes opted to start with Fran Kirby on the bench with the forward also in the early stages of a return from injury having missed most of last season.
She emerged at the start of the second half to play a crucial role in restoring Chelsea’s lead, playing in Rytting Kaneryd down the right who crossed for Kerr to slide in her second.
“I rate Paris,” said Hayes. “I felt there’s a lot of work you have to do over 90 minutes that might have been too much for Fran. It’s so important we keep her healthy for England and Chelsea.
“Fran wants to play in every moment but I thought that was the perfect cameo for her. The team needs it.
“We were sloppy in the first half. I think the games accumulated caught up on us. People don’t realise how hard it is to keep going.”
Paris coach Sandrine Soubeyrand reflected on a brave performance from her team against a side that many fancy for the Champions League crown.
“I think maybe we lacked a bit of efficiency and clinical nature in front of goal,” she said. “I wanted the players to come and give an account of themselves, not so much thinking about the score.
“We wanted to play, not sit back, and I think we did that. We had opportunities. I think we could have done better on one of the goals (conceded), but we go away with no regrets.”