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Friday, 17 November, 2023

Chelsea complete Champions League comeback to ease pressure on Graham Potter

Chelsea complete Champions League comeback to ease pressure on Graham Potter

They beat Borussia Dortmund 2-nil on the night, and 2-1 on aggregate

Graham Potter enjoyed his finest result as Chelsea manager as Borussia Dortmund were beaten at Stamford Bridge to see his side through to the Champions League quarter-final.

The Blues trailed 1-0 from the first leg in Germany but were relentless in their efforts to turn the tie around in west London, a goal from Raheem Sterling in the first half and a re-taken penalty from Kai Havertz earning a deserved 2-0 win and breathing space at last for Potter.

It was the first time since October that the team had won back-to-back matches, following Saturday’s victory against Leeds, and after two games in four days that had looked set to define whether the board would keep faith with the manager, that faith was vindicated.

Chelsea were energetic, playing on the front foot with bags of initiative, a team transformed from the one defeated here by Southampton 17 days ago.

Dortmund, second in the Bundesliga and on a run of 10 straight wins, could not live with their early high pressing and three times in the opening 10 minutes the home side went close to the goal that would change the tie.

First, Marc Cucurella won the ball with a show of strength on halfway and released Joao Felix down the left. His low effort after muscling through was smothered at the near post by Alexander Meyer.

From the resulting corner, Kalidou Koulibaly flicked the ball wide unmarked from a mistimed header, before Havertz, holding off the attentions of Emre Can, thundered one just wide from a tight angle.

It was an urgent opening from Chelsea, who played like a team against the clock. Dortmund could not catch their breath, nor match Chelsea’s breathless pace.

The visitors produced a reminder of their threat on 25 minutes, Marco Reus’s free-kick was perfectly arched over the wall, requiring fine goalkeeping from Kepa Arrizabalaga to dive and palm it away.

The scare did not deter Chelsea and minutes later Reece James restarted the onslaught with a cross from the right which was cleared only as far as Havertz. The German, who had scored only once in 2023, dispatched his shot first-time beyond Meyer and agonisingly against the inside of the post.

Havertz had the ball in the net before the break only for a late flag to rescue Dortmund, then Koulibaly kicked at thin air from six yards with the goal gaping. The pattern of the half, the shape of Chelsea’s pressure, was captured by a yellow card shown to Niklas Sule for time-wasting five minutes before the break.

The opening goal came timed to perfection. Forty-three minutes had passed when Havertz back-heeled to Mateo Kovacic and the captain used brute strength to bully his way through midfield, buying time for Chilwell to overlap and take over. His cross for Sterling looked to have been wasted by a careless miskick, but fortune favoured Chelsea at last. With his second effort, Sterling lashed it home past Meyer.

Minutes after the break came the penalty, awarded by VAR, the decision handball against Marius Wolf. Havertz approached, stopped, waited for Meyer to commit, then clipped his kick against the post, but a reprieve was only seconds away.

Dortmund players had encroached into the box, and at the second bite Havertz made swift amends – same side, same broken run-up – to put Chelsea two up.

Thereafter the pattern of things changed, and Dortmund finally took a grip of the game. Sule flashed wide with a snap shot that whistled by the post as the spectre of a Champions League exit loomed.

Chelsea, confident like never before under Potter, still threatened on the break, Conor Gallagher denied a textbook counter-attack goal by the flag. They had already done enough to earn passage to the last eight.

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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