“There are going to be clappers, whistles, drums, everything – it’s going to be noisy,” warned Blues captain Kaz Carney ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Lyon, with the prize at stake being a place in the Champions League final.
“I still think we’ve got a couple more gears in us,” she added. “Making Kingsmeadow a fortress, the fans can be the extra player for us, getting behind us. There’s no pressure on us – there’s more pressure for Lyon.
“We want to conduct ourselves with class; focus on us. At the end of the day there’s a Champions League final at stake. We’re Chelsea, and we want to get to a final.
“We’ve got an amazing front line, an amazing team and a great bench; we’re world-class players. We’re not in a semi-final position by luck.”
So can Chelsea improve over their exceptional second-half performance in Lyon a week ago?
“I still think we can be better; more ruthless, more clinical,” said Karen. “You learn from mistakes. We made mistakes last week, but we have to learn from them. We’re a team, and if something goes wrong, someone else helps you. We’re a massive unit. Emma [Hayes] has always wanted us to be class, and that’s how we go about our business, with class, humility and hard work. It means we can fight and fight and fight.
“For me it’s an amazing experience; we’re going to go out there and have fun. This team is exciting, and I love playing for them.”
Hayes herself organised a visit to the training ground for Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack (a former goalkeeper in her childhood!), to talk to the squad ahead of Sunday’s match, to put the game into context and as a timely message to reinforce Chelsea FC’s message against prejudice, racism, discrimination and hatred.
“We had a talk from a beautiful woman,” said Hayes. “Listening to her experience of being dehumanised and persecuted; it was emotional. I asked how how she kept going. What got you through that. She said to me: ‘I was young, and I wanted to give back something to life, and I’m grateful that life is worth living for.’ She didn’t display any anger; she’d come through the hardest experience possible and still had the kindest of hearts.
“It was a reminder that our resilience is needed at the hardest of times. I want everyone to value everything we have. I want [Sunday] to be a joyous occasion and one that we celebrate with an unbelievable performance for the team. We just recognise how lucky we are.”
On the footballing front, Hayes was philosophical about mistakes in the game, such as the couple of recent unfortunate own-goals for Magda Eriksson and the missed penalty at Lyon for Fran Kirby.
“A midfielder can give the ball away three, four, five times and it doesn’t result in something costly to the team,” she said. “A defender can put her foot on the ball with a shot that’s angling wide and it goes in as an own-goal, and a striker can miss a penalty and feel like they’ve let the team down. The reality is that mistakes happen in football for every single player and ultimately you fail more times than you succeed.
“Missing a penalty is part of that journey for whoever’s in that position, and it’s important for Fran as it is for the rest of the team to recognise that errors come with that, but to stay strong mentally and go again, and if we are relentless in our pursuit, ultimately we will prosper.”
On Sunday’s match, Hayes insisted Chelsea respected Lyon, but feared no one.
“We don’t live in fear,” she said. “They will throw absolutely everything at this team. We have to show that we know how to walk through the door. You don’t get to where we want to by simply willing it, we have to work. This weekend we’re going to have to work harder than we’ve ever worked.”
The Blues have had that rare thing in the crazy scheduling of the women’s top-flight game in recent months; a clear week to prepare. How does Hayes feel about that, given that she has been vocal in her criticism of the English football authorities in the past for ‘feast or famine’ fixturing?
“I actually texted Kelly Simmons [FA Women’s director] last week to say thanks to the FA and her colleagues around putting an English team in the best possible position; we can’t have any excuses around that, and we have the FA to thank for that – and the rest of the league,” she said.
“Collectively, a year ago, we worked towards scheduling to put a Champions League team in the best possible position, and those considerations will apply in the future for any English team; that just shows the collaborative approach that has taken place across the country.”
Hayes feels that Chelsea’s increasingly raucous support (the volume is turned up a notch with every game) can play a pivotal part in the Blues’ success. “One thing I’ve enjoyed about our fans this year, other than the songsheets that get passed around, is there is fandom on a level I haven’t seen with any other team in the league.
“Our fanbase is growing, there’s an affection with the players; they sing in full chorus, there are sections of singing now that I’ve never seen in the women’s game in this country… and it’s weekly.
“So I’m excited to give the fans that; to put the team in a position where both the team and the fans are excited to be part of something. Happy days!”
She said that she would make the most of the ‘collective wisdom’ swirling round Kingsmeadow to make it a difficult afternoon for Lyon, while remaining mindful of the fact that the French side has the talent to create chances.
“I’ve got a fully fit squad who are fully focused on the task ahead at the weekend. I’m disappointed by the result last weekend, but I know that the team have another level in them. I’m disappointed we lost. We’re Chelsea! I don’t care who we’re playing.
“I always knew we’d get [an away] goal. If we continue to build our quality around their box and display a little bit more clinical play, there are more goals in the team. It’s about concentrating on what we do, how we play, how we perform.
“We are not delusional. We know that Lyon will come at us with everything they have got; they’ve got star power, they’ve got lots of money, lots of titles behind them and lots of confidence in their own ability. But this [Chelsea] team will throw everything in Lyon’s direction.
“I know many a team who would have been 2-0 down at Lyon, and folded. We showed that they are human, that we can compete effectively. We’ll do our very best.”
Asked if she felt the pressure, she responded: “Pressure is paying bills at the end of the week – this is not pressure, this is a privilege! Maybe I can say that as an older and a wiser coach.”
What impressed towards the final minutes of the first leg of this semi-final in Lyon was Chelsea’s improved fitness, stamina and staying power. Weathering the inevitable Lyon storm at the start of the game – even if it leads to an away goal for the French team – will be key to success over the 90 minutes.
An extra batch of 250 tickets are now on sale, to cope with demand for what is expected to be a sell-out game on Sunday at 2pm. It is £6 for adults, with kids and seniors free.