The scale of the task faced by Chelsea, who have to overturn a 2-1 away defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final second leg on Sunday, is perhaps best illustrated by a simple statistic. Only twice in the competition’s 20-year history have semi-finalists come back from first-leg defeats to reach the final, and no one has done so in 11 years.
In 2010 Turbine Potsdam endured a 1-0 defeat before beating Duisburg 1-0 and progressing in a shootout. Five years earlier Frankfurt lost 1-0 at home against Montpellier but won 3-2 in France to go through on away goals.
Should Chelsea reach the final they will be only the second English team to do so, after Arsenal won the competition in 2007, but first they must buck the colossal semi-final trend. They can perhaps take some solace in the fact they are the club to have come closest in recent years, their second-leg 1-1 draw at Kingsmeadow not quite enough to steer them free of a 2-1 away defeat by the eventual champions Lyon in 2019.
It is testament to the squad Emma Hayes has built and the run they are on that many believe they are capable of the recovery.
“The realities are we are losing the game and we have to score a goal; that’s what I know factually has to happen,” Hayes said. “Beyond that, we have to make it difficult for them to get an away goal. We didn’t play poorly last week, we just didn’t do well in the finishing phase and gave away two sloppy goals, so we just have to keep doing what has got us to this point and use the collective experience in the entire environment. We’ve got so much quality in our ranks, and I’m looking forward to watching us play.”
Hayes knows what it takes to win this competition. She was on Vic Akers’s coaching staff when Arsenal won the quadruple. Those are “really happy memories”, she said. “Unbelievable team, unbelievable manager, great experience, great camaraderie.”
The biggest lesson learned is to stay calm. “I remember trying to get the girls out of the dressing room in the warmup,” she said of the final’s second leg. “They were straightening each other’s hair. I remember Mary Philip FaceTiming her kids while Marta was doing shuttles on the pitch and our girls are thinking: ‘Yeah, all right, we’ll be there in a minute.’ That calm, relaxed yet confident attitude will stick with me.
“That’s the first thing and the second was I learned that luck matters. [The goalkeeper] Emma Byrne had to have the performance of her life and a post, among other things, kept us in the game and then there was a brilliant crowd at Borehamwood that day. It is still one of my most favourite memories in football and a pleasure to have been a part of that journey.”
As a result Hayes wants to deflect attention from the numbers, expectations and hype. “It’s just another game,” she said. “It’s you guys that build it up to be something more than it is for us. For us it’s just one in what we consider to be important to us. I’m not interested in the history, I’m not interested in the stats around it, I’m interested in staying present and making sure what we do every day is what we do at the weekend.”
Chelsea’s biggest obstacles are that they are yet to fill the hole left by an injury to the right-back Maren Mjelde and that the centre-back and captain, Magda Eriksson, may miss out because of a calf problem. That could lead to the Wales international Sophie Ingle stepping into the backline again.
The biggest need is to “eliminate mistakes”, Hayes said. “We’ve been solid all season, we really have, and I think there’s a reason we’re in the position we’re in, because of how well we’ve done.
“When you play the top opponents you just can’t switch off for a single incidence, whether it be a throw-in, a corner a quick restart, whatever. You have to be conscious of how switched on you’ve got to be. That’s what my message to the team will be: don’t relent, stay switched on to the task.
“We’re going to take the game to Bayern Munich. We’re at home, we like playing at Kingsmeadow, and I think we’ve got to trust that we’re in the position that we’re in because we deserve to be. But, if you want to go to the next level you have to produce something you didn’t produce before, it has to be better than it was, and that’s what I have to look at from last weekend.
“I want an inspired performance from the team but I’m accustomed to getting that from them, so I trust them.”