Chelsea vs Borussia Dortmund: Graham Potter faces future-defining night in the Champions League
Ahead of the most critical moment of his reign as Chelsea head coach so far, Graham Potter is well aware of the rewards victory over Borussia Dortmund would bring.
‘It’s a big game, it’s an exciting game,’ he said on the eve of their showdown with the German club at Stamford Bridge. ‘[It is] a chance to go through to the last eight of the Champions League. So a special night at Stamford Bridge, we’re really looking forward to that.’
On the one hand, Potter is right. ‘Special’ will indeed be a fitting review of the evening in question if his side fight back from a goal down against Dortmund to book their place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Yet, given how disillusioned they have looked so far in 2023, how devoid of strategy and inspiration they have appeared when lurching from one disaster to to the next, this of course remains an enormous if.
Saturday’s nervy 1-0 win over Leeds was only the second time Chelsea have won a match this calendar year, and while the three points were ultimately all that mattered, it papered over multiple cracks for them right now.
Graham Potter is gearing up for his most crucial outing as Chelsea head coach on Tuesday
The Blues are set to face Borussia Dortmund in a pivotal Champions League last-16 second leg
Dortmund head into the game with a 1-0 lead in the bank after winning last month’s opener
Potter needs to mastermind a victory to keep Chelsea’s season and his future in charge alive
They have still only scored one goal from open play in their last seven matches, equating to almost 700 minutes of football. They have still failed to score two or more in a single game since December 27.
That must change if they want to get past Dortmund, who rock up on the King’s Road with a 1-0 lead in the bank after winning last month’s first leg in Germany.
If not, that ‘special’ night Potter is longing for will evaporate into thin air and perhaps put the final nail in his Blues coffin.
This last-16 tie has the aura of a final for both Chelsea and their under-fire coach. Lose and the season is all but over while out of every cup competition and floored to the point of no return in the battle for top four.
Despite showing a refreshing degree of patience to stick by him up to this point, Todd Boehly would surely be left with crippling doubts over Potter’s suitability to lead their long-term project if Dortmund deliver another knockout blow here.
While it’s fair to point out that he joined a team in disarray both on and off the pitch last September, and was bombarded with an overwhelming array of reinforcements just two months ago, time is running out for him to at least offer a glimpse into the bright future he believes his management can promise.
Beating Dortmund at the Bridge tonight would do exactly that. Yes, the odds will still be stacked against Chelsea making it as far as the semi-finals. They could well crash out in the last eight. But overcoming this obstacle would lift spirits like never before in Potter’s tenure, providing a morale boost that is long overdue and suggesting he could be cut out for the big stage after all.
It is almost win or bust for Potter on Tuesday night; either salvage the season and his own future or stare down the barrel of Boehly’s gun.
Saturday’s nervy 1-0 win over Leeds almost papered over the cracks for his team right now
They have still only scored once from open play in their last seven matches in all competitions
Todd Boehly will surely be weighing up whether Potter is the right man for the job
Unfortunately for the 47-year-old, their opponents arrive in the capital in a rich vein of form, having avoided defeat in all competitions since November 11 and kept pace with Bayern Munich at the Bundesliga summit.
Inspired by England wonderkid Jude Bellingham at the heart of their midfield, Dortmund are a side brimming with confidence and will therefore provide the sternest of tests.
Nevertheless, Chelsea can draw confidence from their narrow defeat at Signal Iduna Park last month despite leaving empty handed. They created a plethora of chances, albeit wasting them, and deserved to come away with at least a share of the spoils.
That has been a familiar theme not only for Potter but also the coach who came before him, Thomas Tuchel. Below-par finishing has marred countless strong performances in recent years under both managers, leaving pundits to conclude that it could have been a different story for them ‘on another day’.
Potter and Chelsea desperately need it to be one of those other days this evening. Such a pivotal outing could bring caginess, yet when the chances do arrive the likes of Joao Felix, Kai Havertz and Raheem Sterling must make Dortmund pay.
It is believed they will set up with a three-man backline against Dortmund just like in the win over Leeds, which has proven the system behind some of their most impressive victories of the last three or four seasons.
Reece James is expected to pass a late fitness test and start at right wing-back, coming as a significant boost to Potter, with Ben Chilwell over on the opposite side.
In this shape, Chelsea can benefit from James and Chilwell’s offensive qualities down the flanks and provide Havertz with better service from out wide at the pinpoint of the attack, while also ensuring Enzo Fernandez has sufficient protection behind him.
Potter will be crossing his fingers and toes that he has stumbled upon the formula to pull a beleaguered group out of their slump and into the next round of the Champions League. His future as head coach may well be riding on it.
It promises to be a huge night for the 47-year-old as he fights for his future at Stamford Bridge