After an historic semi-final appearance two years ago, Chelsea missed out on the Women’s Champions League altogether last season, and have thus waited a long time for a chance make a mark on the competition once again.
Now we get that chance in a Round fo 32 first leg matchup with Portuguese champions SL Benfica in Lisbon — this year’s competition has been restructured as a knockout tournament rather than the usual group stage format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chelsea were seeded directly into the Round of 32, alongside all the other European heavyweights.
Date / Time: Wednesday, December 9, 2020, 15.00 GMT; 10am EST; 8:30pm IST
Venue: Estádio da Tapadinha, Lisbon, Portugal
Referee: Esther Staubli (Switzerland)
Forecast: Mild; rain likely
On TV: none
Streaming: Chelsea’s official website and The 5th Stand app
SL Benfica team news: Benfica reached the knockout stage after winning two (single-elimination) qualifying rounds a few weeks ago. First, they handled Greek side PAOK, 3-1 in late October, before getting by Anderlecht, 2-1 last month.
Former professional footballer Luís Andrade took over as manager in 2019, but Benfica have been on the rise since just about their formation in 2017. After winning the Portuguese second division in their inaugural season, they have quickly grown into one of the best teams in the top division. They have lost just once all season thus far, a 3-0 defeat to rivals Sporting CP.
Chelsea FCW team news: Sam Kerr collected a hat trick but also a minor hip injury against West Ham over the weekend, so it was a relief to hear Emma Hayes confirm that she is with the team and expected to be available.
One player who’s sure to start is Millie Bright, who was a rare substitute on Sunday but will no doubt return to the starting XI to rejoin her usual partner at center back, Magda Eriksson. We will also likely rely on the quality and considerable experience of the one Chelsea player who did play in the Champions League last season, Pernille Harder.
Fran Kirby, who’s been in exceptional form this season, showed in her most recent appearance that her ankle is good to go. Her partnership with Sam Kerr has been lethal at times, demonstrated by linking up twice for goals last weekend.
Emma Hayes has opted for very attacking formations this season, perhaps in part to accommodate her many star forwards — though it’s possible that she’ll drop one of the attackers in exchange for solidifying the midfield.
Previously: The two sides have not met previously, partly because Benfica Women were only formed at the end of 2017. Instead, let us recall an excellent night from the the last time the Blues were in the Champions League.