The slow torture of a fine coach and a good man was finally called to a halt at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.
Chelsea defended superbly and bulldozed their way past a disappointing Borussia Dortmund team and into the quarter-finals of the Champions League and as the supporters danced and yelled and bounced, the club’s besieged manager Graham Potter threw off the ropes that have bound him and leapt down from the rack.
Potter, famously, had never even been to a Champions League game before this season and now he has become the first English manager to win a knockout game for the club in the competition.
He and his coaches went through agonies in the final few moments of time added on as Dortmund pressed for the goal that would take the tie into extra time, barely able to watch, holding their heads in their hands, frantically shouting instructions. When the final whistle eventually came, the roar from the stadium warmed the chill night air.
Defeat in this last-16 tie would have placed Potter in grave danger of losing a job he only started in September but this 2-0 victory, which came hard on the heels of Chelsea’s Premier League win over Leeds on Saturday, gave him some precious breathing space and provided the most conclusive evidence so far that he is learning how to shepherd the lavish but bloated squad at his disposal. It was the first time Chelsea had scored twice in a match since December 27.
Raheem Sterling scored Chelsea’s first goal after a spell of intense pressure from the hosts
Kai Havertz netted the winner from the spot after Chelsea had been awarded a penalty
Havertz originally missed the spot-kick, but re-took to score following an encroachment
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Chelsea (3-4-3): Kepa 7; Fofana 7, Koulibaly 7, Cucurella 7; James 7.5, Kovacic 7 (Loftus-Cheek 83), Enzo 7.5 (Zakaria 87), Chilwell 8; Sterling 7 (Pulisic 83), Havertz 6.5, Felix 6.5 (Gallagher 67, 6).
Subs not used: Bettinelli, Bergstrom, Chalobah, Mudryk, Ziyech, Chukwuemeka, Hall.
Booked: Kepa, Enzo, Chilwell.
Dortmund (4141): Meyer 6; Wolf 6, Sule 6, Schlotterbeck 6, Guerreiro 6; Can 6.5; Brandt 5 (Reyna 5, 6), Bellingham 6.5, Ozcan 6, (Bynoe-Gittens 65), Reus 6; Haller 6 (Malen 77).
Subs not used: Kobel, Unbehaun, Dahoud, Hummels, Modeste, Meunier, Passlack, Rothe, Coulibaly.
Booked: Sule, Wolf, Bellingham.
Referee: Danny Makkelie (NED): 5.5.
Potter got a little bit of luck at last, too. Raheem Sterling, who had not scored since January 1, profited from a wild miskick to put Chelsea ahead on the night just before half-time, and a twice-taken penalty from Kai Havertz early in the second half put them 2-1 ahead on aggregate. After the agonies he has endured, It would be hard to argue that Potter didn’t deserve a break.
This was, without doubt, Potter’s biggest victory in his short tenure at Chelsea. Dortmund were disappointing on Tuesday night but they are level on points with Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga and had won their previous 10 games on the spin. The triumph bridged a credibility gap for Potter, too. He has led his team to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where they will mix again with European royalty. He is edging his way slowly into the elite.
He knows, too, that winning the tournament this season might be the only way of qualifying for it next season. Chelsea are 10th in the Premier League, 11 points behind fourth-placed Spurs, and even though Spurs are a team walking through treacle, that still feels like an improbable target, even before factoring in Liverpool’s recent momentum in their ascent towards the Champions League places.
It was said in the build-up to the match that Germany forward Karim Adeyemi, who scored the winner in the first leg but was ruled out of this match by injury, would be a big miss for the visitors and so it proved. Dortmund looked pedestrian without him. Nor were they helped when Julian Brandt had to be substituted early on. His replacement, Gio Reyna, was anonymous.
Dortmund had other concerns. The first was negotiating London’s traffic, which they failed to do miserably. Their team coach was stuck in the congested streets of the west of the capital and got to the stadium late. The kick-off was delayed for 10 minutes, which allowed 10 more minutes for the raucous atmosphere inside the stadium to build.
When the match did kick-off, clouds of yellow smoke billowed across the ground from flares that burned in the Dortmund section. Before two minutes had elapsed, Sterling burst out of the murk and ran through on goal after being played in by Havertz. Confronted by Alexander Meyer, Sterling was seized by indecision and the moment was gone. A linesman’s flag spared Sterling’s blushes.
Chelsea tore into Dortmund and Havertz wasted a chance when he was clean through but blasted his right foot shot just wide. For all Chelsea’s pressure, it was Dortmund who came closest to scoring in the opening 20 minutes. Wesley Fofana gave away a free-kick on the edge of the Chelsea area and Marco Reus sent it dipping and weaving over the wall. It was flying towards the top corner when Kepa Arrizabalaga hurled himself to his right and pushed it away at full stretch.
Dortmund began to settle into the game but just before half an hour had elapsed, Chelsea came within an ace of taking the lead. A testing cross from the right from Reece James was only half cleared and Havertz pounced on it on the edge of the area. His left foot drive beat Meyer but rebounded off the foot of the post and rolled across the face of the goal to safety.
Kick-off was delayed due to Dortmund failing to negotiate traffic on their way to the ground
Stamford Bridge was engulfed in yellow smoke upon kick-off, coming from a packed away end
Chelsea thought they had scored eight minutes before half-time when Havertz curled a shot in off the underside of the crossbar but an assistant’s flag was raised immediately for an earlier offside against Sterling. A sense of frustration began to pervade the excitement at the Bridge. When Ben Chilwell sliced a shot high into the Shed End three minutes before the break, the groans redoubled.
A minute later, Potter’s side were ahead. Chilwell drilled a low ball across goal from the left and Sterling swung wildly at it with his left foot. He miskicked it completely but the ball fell kindly for him and he tricked his way past Reus before crashing the bouncing ball past Meyer from ten yards out.
A minute after half-time, Chelsea were awarded a penalty when a cross from Chilwell struck the outstretched hand of Marius Wolf and VAR reviewed the referee’s decision to allow play to continue. Havertz took the kick and halted during his run up, committing Meyer. But Havertz hit the foot of the post with his kick, it rebounded to safety and Dortmund celebrated their escape.
Kepa Arrizabalaga was in good form for Chelsea and had to save from Marco Reus’ free-kick
Jude Bellingham missed a good chance to score for Dortmund in a quiet game for him
Graham Potter was full of emotion at full-time after his side’s progress was confirmed
They did not celebrate for long. Replays showed that four Dortmund players, perhaps fooled by Havertz’s pause, had encroached in the box when the kick was taken. To Dortmund’s dismay, Havertz was given a chance to redeem himself. He had the courage to take the kick again. He went through the same routine, the same pause, and sent the ball towards the same corner. This time, it went inside the post. Chelsea were ahead on aggregate.
Jude Bellingham, England’s young jewel, had had a quiet game in the Dortmund midfield but he had a golden chance to drag his team back into the game after an hour when the ball sat up for him six yards out after a scramble. Bellingham prodded it towards the corner but it rolled agonisingly wide of Arrizabalaga’s left-hand post.
Bellingham sent a limp header over the bar late on and brought a fine save out of Arrizabalaga with an audacious attempt to beat him at his near post with a curling left foot drive but Dortmund could not find a way back. Potter left the pitch punching the air and waving to the crowd. For now, at least, the Chelsea manager’s torture is over.
Havertz showed a cool head to put his second penalty away after missing the first kick
Potter’s men were by far the better side on the night and the result may provide the manager with the lift he needed