Everton have never advanced beyond the last 16 in Europe but their preparations to go one better in their UEFA Women's Champions League tie against Brøndby IF have been somewhat unusual.
England's domestic break began in May and will not come to an end until next spring, when the new FA Women's Super League launches with a summer season. That has not stopped Everton and rivals Arsenal LFC reaching the round of 16 and the Toffees hope their third continental campaign will be the first they take past Christmas.
To do that, they must defeat two-time semi-finalists Brøndby and despite her side having scored 30 goals in five European games this season, Everton manager Mo Marley is aware that they must step up a level in Wednesday's first leg in Denmark. "We know it's going to be a big jump," she told UEFA.com.
"They've got quite a bit of tradition in the Champions League itself. We're happy to be in this round for the first time ever and we want to set our goals to be among the better teams, the ones with the tradition, and everyone's excited about it."
Goalkeeper Rachel Brown has had plenty of international games to keep her sharp lately, with England qualifying for the FIFA Women's World Cup before travelling to a tournament in Korea Republic. She believes Everton are learning from their two previous European campaigns.
We played a Norwegian team a couple of years ago and we went out there all guns blazing, expecting to win, and got battered 3-0," Brown said. "From that approach we learned a hard lesson, but that's what will help you progress in competitions further down the line."
Brown added that their lack of league action has not left them out of contention. "Domestically, we've not played together very much but we've still been training regularly and we've had a lot of games in international competition this summer," the 30-year-old said.
"So that's kept us focused on football and our training programmes. We're all in top condition as we would be if our domestic league had continued as a winter league. And some of us have had a little bit of rest between England games and these sort of games, a little bit of down time. It hasn't affected our fitness, apart from giving us rest we don't usually get."
"It's actually helped us," added Marley. "It's been a total focus on the Champions League; there haven't been any distractions. You get a good lead-up to every game, two to three weeks solid preparations. You've got less concerns about people getting injured."
Although 2007 European champions Arsenal have monopolised the English title in recent years, Everton have been running the Gunners increasingly close and beat them 3-2 in a memorable FA Women's Cup final last season. "We are making a stamp on an elite level from a domestic point of view," Marley said. "
I think we're still unknown in the Champions League. I don't think a lot of people know too much about us, so it's about getting that credibility for ourselves in the Champions League."
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