Just over a year and a half ago, Chelsea nearly knocked Lyon out of the UEFA Women's Champions League for the first time in four years at Kingsmeadow, but Emma Hayes' side failed to capitalise and fell one goal short of reaching the final over the European giants.
Chelsea's first taste of European competition will be against SL Benfica, a new Portuguese club who is competing in the UWCL for the first time.
"Not competing was not great, I did not enjoy watching that, but anyone knows that I like to win, and I don’t want to sit and watch everyone else try to win, I want to do it myself," said Hayes.
"I love this competition, the players love this competition, and we did everything we possibly can to get back in it. It was our first priority domestically, you got to qualify for Europe. We deserve to be here and now it’s important for us that we must stay here and compete for the trophy. Those are what our ambitions are."
European reinforcements like Pernille Harder and Melanie Leupolz have not only stacked up plenty of UWCL experiences with their former clubs, but both have tasted defeat to the French champions. More recently, Harder lost to Lyon with VfL Wolfsburg in the 2019 final played earlier this year.
Not only is quality of players important, but with five matches in a week for Chelsea, depth in squad is important to compete in both domestic and European competitions, that's not including the added fatigue on players from international breaks.
Emma Hayes believes that she finally has the squad to be in contention for European glory; "I’m excited to get started, it’s been a long time waiting to start this competition again.
"Do I think there’s more than two teams capable of winning the Champions League this year? Yes I do, I think there’s probably about six. Do I consider that we will be one competing within that? Absolutely.
"But everything from the type of draw you get, to injuries, to suspension, to timing, all of those things play a part. I remember being part of the Arsenal squad [that won the UWCL in 2007] and saw all the things that had to happen to make that work. You need to have everything fall into place, but I have built a squad who is ready for it."
Investment is important
Jean-Michel Aulas, Lyon President, investment in women's football like no else ever had. Unlike many others who invest after getting results, Aulas wanted to change this standard of business and put just as money into the women's side of the club as he did in the men's.
No other club is able to compete, not even now, with the squad depth, facilities, professional backroom staff and professionalism of the French club. What this investment has gotten him is seven Women's Champions League titles and 14 league titles.
Emma Hayes admits that Lyon, along with a few other European clubs are above in the investment seen in the FA Women's Super League, but she believes she's been building this team up long enough to be able to finally compete with those European giants.
"The level of investment of those clubs outside of England have been significant. When you consider Lyon the support investment that’s gone into that club, you can’t compare that to anyone else. I think clubs like Barcelona, Wolfs, PSG they’re all on a financial level above the English clubs in terms of their spend," said Hayes.
"Not that money equates to success, but we have built a team that will compete. I hope that with the additions we’ve made this year and collective wisdom we’ve developed, we can progress one stage further and that’s what we aspire towards.
"I think if you knew the finances [of big European clubs], they are probably double that of English clubs. I’m not saying I don’t have quality in our ranks but you can’t just acquire one or two players to just be at that level, you have to build towards that and I think depth is the key to do it.
"Hence, why I have a top-heavy squad. Everything from suspensions to injuries will play a part later on. I mean, look at Lyon last year they played who they consider to be their third choice No.9 in the final and nobody has that resource, so I knew we needed that depth."
What to expect from Benfica
Benfica don't have any previous experience in competing in the Champions League and are only in their third year of existence as a club. Hayes and her team don't have much to go off of.
"I’m not Marcelo Bielsa, I haven’t sent anybody up in the trees anywhere with a drone over the Benfica training ground so don’t worry," joked Hayes.
Though no previous European matches to watch, the Benfica side were crowned champions, like Chelsea, in their domestic league after the 2019/20 season was curtailed. Hayes has watched a few of their fixtures and got an idea of what to expect from the new side, but knows from experience never to write off a team.
"[They have] quality in possession, really good on the counter, really organised defensively and got some individuals that I think have talent in and around the penalty box. The players know that it’s a different opponent, sometimes you don’t know what to expect as best we can but looking forward to facing this side.
"You don’t really get a feel for an opponent until it starts, and you feel what the game is like. We have experience in Europe and our players know how different it is to play in Europe than domestically."
Where to watch
The first leg will take place tomorrow at the Caixa Futebol Campus in Seixal, Lisbon and KO is 3pm UK time.
The match will be streamed on: 5th Stand app, the Chelsea website and Chelsea official YouTube channel (UK only)