Chelsea 5-1 Liverpool: Lauren James is England's 'most naturally gifted footballer', says Chelsea boss Emma Hayes

Three goals, one assist and a crucial role in the other - it is no wonder Chelsea boss Emma Hayes described Lauren James as the "most naturally gifted footballer in the country".

The 22-year-old England forward produced a starring performance as the Women's Super League leaders thrashed Liverpool 5-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

"When I'm playing with a smile and have happiness, who knows what can happen," said James following her first WSL hat-trick for Chelsea. "I had a difficult week and I'm thankful for that performance."

James did not start in Chelsea's Champions League game against Real Madrid on Wednesday, but came off the bench and hit the crossbar in the 2-2 draw.

Against a Liverpool side that would have gone second with a win, though, James was back in the starting line-up and back to her best.

She opened the scoring after 11 minutes, out-pacing Gemma Bonner and scoring with a low shot. After Liverpool had equalised, she provided an excellent cross which was headed home by Aggie Beever-Jones to restore the hosts' lead.

James added two further goals in the second half, the first a low shot following Sam Kerr's pass and the second coming as she reacted quickly to finish off Johanna Rytting Kaneryd's low cross to secure her first Chelsea hat-trick and leave with the matchball.

"She was outstanding," said Hayes, who was taking charge of her first Chelsea home match since announcing she will leave the club at the end of the season to become the next manager of the United States women's team.

"Lauren got into such good positions because of her work she did off the ball.

"What she did out of possession was outstanding - the way she back-pressed, counter pressed, dominated her duels, did it for 90 minutes and was very selfless in her work.

"Lauren knows what I think of her. She's a young player still and we always want everything from young players, but she showed the best of herself. She was unstoppable."

James' return to form comes at a crucial time for England, who play the Netherlands on Friday, 1 December in a vital Nations League game at Wembley, with the Lionesses needing a win to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Former England defender Gilly Flaherty, speaking on BBC One, said: "Lauren was absolutely outstanding.

"She was involved in everything - she was everywhere. There have been times when there were three or four Liverpool players around her but they couldn't get the ball.

"If she can bring these performances to the international stage as well it will be a great future for England."

No-one understands how hard it is - Hayes critical of schedule

Although delighted with the win, which leaves Chelsea six points clear of second-placed Arsenal, Hayes was critical of a schedule which has seen her side play Everton away on Sunday, Real Madrid away in Spain on Wednesday and Liverpool on Saturday afternoon.

"With three games in six days of course I'm going to hammer television and the league," said Hayes.

"No-one understands how hard it is. We're the only [English] team in Europe, yet have the only [national football] association that does not help their team. Spain does, France does, Germany does, but we don't. For me that's disappointing and we're working against ourselves.

"Broadcasters say [there are] two days in between [matches], but they are not factoring in that we're getting in at half four [in the morning]. It's never two really full days and you feel like a zombie on the first day.

"All I'm asking is [whether] we want an English team to progress in Europe. The rest of Europe looks at us and thinks 'their league doesn't even help them'. It's something we should really look at.

"We were the only team that played on Wednesday and the first team to play on Saturday, having played away from home last Sunday night. When you play a team that has had three extra days' rest it does matter."

Hayes made six changes from the 11 which started the match against Real Madrid, with captain Millie Bright rested.

The Chelsea boss feels more needs to be done to protect players.

"I could've played Millie Bright, but at what cost?" asked Hayes. "They need to play for England next week to try to qualify for the Olympics. It's about player welfare.

"Broadcasters and league organisers don't really understand it or the dangers of it.

"In an ideal world those making the decisions would have some players to help them and show it's not as easy as everybody thinks. I'm just asking to think about player's welfare - men's and women's."