Graham Potter faces defining moment in Chelsea story against Dortmund | Chelsea

It is not Graham Potter’s style to make the story about himself. Asked whether knocking Borussia Dortmund out of the Champions League would change the story of his Chelsea career, Potter remained as measured as ever. “I’m not really thinking in that way,” Chelsea’s head coach said. “I’’m just thinking about how important it is for the team and the club. It’s a chance to get to the last eight. We’re playing against a top opponent in a really good vein of form. It’s a huge challenge.”

But not an insurmountable one. “What an opportunity,” Potter continued, briefly dropping his guard, briefly letting in some emotion. There was a line about making sure that Stamford Bridge is rocking, and hidden beneath the calm exterior was a sense that this is a defining moment for Potter; a chance for him to win over the fans and prove he belongs at Chelsea.

The mood was lighter. João Félix talked about Chelsea, who trail 1-0 after missing several chances during the first leg, being under “zero pressure”. Potter, whose job security has been under threat, sounded more relaxed after his side earned a nervy 1-0 win over Leeds on Saturday. Admittedly, their season would be all but over if they lose to Dortmund but beating Leeds was an important step. It punctured the negativity and, although the performance was far from perfect, it has set Potter up to show why he retains the support of Chelsea’s owners, Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.

“Your mood is a bit better when you win,” Potter said. “But the good thing and bad thing about the job is there is another game pretty quickly. As much as you can celebrate the win against Leeds it’s pretty quickly on to Dortmund.”

The good news is that Chelsea had Christian Pulisic, N’Golo Kanté and Reece James back in training on Monday morning. Kanté, who has been out since tearing a hamstring in August, has not played for Potter and the midfielder will need to be eased in gently. As for James, who missed the Leeds game with a tight hamstring, it would be a huge boost if he were ready to resume duties at right wing-back.

But there are complications. Mason Mount is suspended, there is no Thiago Silva in defence and Benoît Badiashile is ineligible. Badiashile’s absence means Potter, who has been left with a bloated squad after Chelsea’s wild January, needs another defensive rejig. Trevoh Chalobah could start in a back three with Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana.

N’Golo Kanté joins in training with Chelsea
N’Golo Kanté’s potential return is a boost heading into the second leg against Dortmund. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images/Reuters

Dortmund are more settled. They are level with Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga after 10 consecutive wins and they have Jude Bellingham. This will not be easy. Chelsea were hardly downhearted after the first leg but Dortmund will be dangerous.

The question is whether Chelsea can break them down. They have not scored more than twice in a game since beating Bournemouth on 27 December. Wastefulness remains a problem. There were more missed chances against Leeds – Kai Havertz wasted a one-on-one, Félix hit the bar and Raheem Sterling shot over from close range – and that could have been costly.

However Chelsea’s attacking play was impressive during the first 25 minutes. Sterling was sharp and Félix was a creative menace. The latter could be the key. Félix, on loan from Atletico Madrid until the end of the season, has settled well. “We’re really happy with him,” Potter said. “Providing he isn’t tackling anyone on the halfway line.”

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The mind drifted back to Félix getting sent off on his debut against Fulham. The Portuguese forward called it a stupid red card and is keen to make up for lost time. Félix has dazzled at times, scoring in last month’s draw with West Ham, but his finishing needs to improve.

“It’s frustrating for me and the strikers,” he said. “Sometimes you shoot 10 times and don’t score and another time you shoot once and you score two. We just have to keep working. The goals will appear.”

Félix, who has not clicked with Diego Simeone since joining Atlético in 2019, sounded confident. He did not discount the possibility of joining Chelsea in the summer, despite hinting that he could look elsewhere if they are not in the Champions League. He even predicted that Havertz, who has two goals since Christmas, will score against Dortmund. “We have an amazing group,” Félix said. “The coach is with us, we are with the coach. The situation will change.”

Talk is cheap, though. Chelsea have turned these ties around before but these players have it all to prove. Those unlikely Champions League triumphs in 2012 and 2021 belong to a different age. It is time for Potter to kickstart a new era.

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