Chelsea’s manager, Emma Hayes, is no stranger to pressure. She led the club to the WSL1 and FA Cup double in 2015 and won the 2017 Spring Series. Yet this season the pressure has mounted in a very different way – and that is not a reference to her pregnancy with twins. Making the switch from a summer to a winter season has taken its toll.

With Chelsea fighting for trophies on three fronts, the business end of the season has become brutally congested. The switch was designed to fit better with the international calendar and help teams to maintain momentum in the Champions League. Yet slotting matches around the clustered calendars of the women’s and men’s games, coupled with a swath of postponements because of the cold winter, has wreaked havoc on the two teams still battling in Europe: Chelsea and Manchester City.

Hayes, not known for being shy in voicing her opinion, has been brutal in her criticism of her team’s scheduling nightmare in recent weeks, this Sunday labelling Champions League success a “tall order for an English side” as a result.

She is not repeating herself for the sake of it, because the extent of the problem was clear in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final between Chelsea and City, who are separated by three points in the league (second-placed City having a game in hand) and vying for the WSL1 title.

Such was Chelsea’s difficulty that the late sickness of the forward Ramona Bachmann forced Hayes, who arguably has the strongest squad in the league, to name only four substitutes. Hayes described it as a challenging week with players suffering personal difficulties, injuries and sickness.

The crisis was compounded in the buildup to this Sunday’s Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg (and Wednesday’s trip to Everton beforehand) by Maria Thorisdottir being taken off on a stretcher with an ankle problem. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s two‑goal match winner against City, Fran Kirby, having been sent home before England’s match against Bosnia-Herzegovina to look after a niggle, had a thigh wrapped up with ice as soon as the whistle blew. She insists she feels good but it is clear they are sailing close to the wind with her fitness.

City have similar problems. Having lost a host of players to injury after Christmas, derailing their league domination, they had eight call-ups to Phil Neville’s squad for the Lionesses’ recent World Cup qualifiers. To put that in context, Reading, not competing on three fronts as City were at the time, provided the next highest number: three players.

In some ways City are a victim of their own success but most teams have had players rested and training together at a crucial and busy juncture of the season while Nick Cushing has been without the core of his squad and had them at full pelt against Wales and then Bosnia‑Herzegovina in key internationals.

At the season’s close, Chelsea will have played 12 midweek fixtures (with two games still to be scheduled) and City 13 (with one still to be slotted in). That is approximately one-third of their matches. The latest for City comes on Wednesday at home to Sunderland. Their Champions League opponents, Lyon, who beat City at the same stage last season, will have played seven midweek fixtures come the end of the season, with two pairs of those coming consecutively with week-long breaks in between.

When Lyon, the four-times Champions League winners, arrive at the Academy Stadium they will not have played for a week. While City were digging deep at Chelsea, Lyon put 11 past the second division side Arras FC away in the French Cup, with six different goalscorers (including an Ada Hegerberg hat-trick)

Although Chelsea’s opponents, Wolfsburg, who knocked them out in their two previous Champions League outings (in the round of 32 last season and last 16 in 2015-16), may have a closer tally of midweek fixtures (12), they are also benefiting from kind scheduling around their European campaign. The 4-1 win on Sunday at home to Essen, who sit sixth in the Frauen Bundesliga – a Pernille Harder double sandwiched between goals from Caroline Graham Hansen and Sara Gunnarsdottir – was their last match before they head to Kingsmeadow.

Fixture pile-ups are not uncommon. There is often criticism in the men’s game in England, particularly by sides fighting in Europe. That men’s football has not been able to navigate a solution does not bode well. That said, the women’s game is not beholden to TV rights deals and broadcast schedules in the same way, and a league season with fewer teams in the division provides more time to play with.

For now, Hayes and Cushing are having to deal with undoubtedly one of the most difficult squad management scenarios of their careers. Whom to field, and risk, from their depleted squads on Wednesday is just the latest in the hard decisions they face this month.

Talking points

The fragility of the women’s pyramid has been exposed again. Just four months after 1997 FA Cup winners Millwall Lionesses were granted a licence for the new Women’s Championship (tier two) they stand on the brink of administration. Unbeaten and second in WSL2, a statement to supporters revealed “financial discrepancies” may mean the club is forced to go into administration. The club have launched a crowdfunding campaign and are working on finding a solution that will secure their long-term future.

South Korea beat the Philippines 5-0 in their Asia Cup fifth-place play-off to secure the final spot from Asia in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. They join Australia, China, Japan and Thailand. Meanwhile, Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina are through to the final stage of the Copa América, where there are two places in France up for grabs.

Manchester City’s senior side may have limped out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage but on Saturday City came from behind to win the FA Youth Cup against Reading.

Swansea City won their third FAW Women’s Cup with a 2-1 victory over Cardiff. Alana Murphy put the 11-times winners Cardiff ahead in the 54th minute but Jodie Passmore scored from the spot before Katy Hosford’s shot slipped through the hands of the goalkeeper Ceryn Chamberlain .

England and Birmingham City striker Ellen White has been named WSL1 player of the month. White scored twice as the Blues defeated Bristol City and scored in a 4-0 victory over Liverpool. Doncaster Rovers Belles’ Jess Sigsworth was named WSL2 player of the month.