Chelsea scored, won and played well. That’s happened all too rarely under Graham Potter, who may have proved to the fans in one game that he’s worth sticking with.
It was a game which belied form and presumed confidence levels. Chelsea’s win over Leeds was just their second in 2023. Dortmund had won ten games on the bounce. But as yellow smoke poured from the wall behind Alexander Meyer, Chelsea preyed on Dortmund’s apparent jaundice.
Chelsea snapped into challenges, created chance after chance, and Potter, criticised for meekness in the face of adversity in recent weeks, was seen shouting on the touchline and geeing up the fans at Stamford Bridge, who were fully behind their team for the first time in a long while. Everyone was on it.
Joao Felix and Kai Havertz both had good chances to score and level the tie early on, but didn’t, as has been their and Chelsea’s wont this season. And it felt suspiciously like this could well be another game that got away.
When your luck’s out, it’s out, but it won’t be forever. And in a 15-minute spell at the end of the first half, Chelsea saw the fortune tide turn. Havertz rattled a shot off the inside of the post which rolled agonisingly across the goal line, then finished a chance beautifully only for it to be ruled offside. Kalidou Koulibaly missed an open goal from four yards out. But then Raheem Sterling got the rub of the green.
Sometimes you need one to come off your knee, and sometimes you need an air shot, then for the ball to come off your knee and fall perfectly for you to rattle it into the roof of the net.
And with the Gods then well and truly smiling after they had given Chelsea the finger for months of Potter’s reign, Chelsea then won a penalty through Ben Chilwell smashing the ball at Marius Wolf’s hand from a few yards away, and then got two chances to score said penalty due to some eagle-eyed VAR work.
That was a huge moment for Havertz, who saw his first effort come off the post, before slotting the second into the side-netting of that same post. He’s not and never will be a prolific goalscorer, and that’s an unfair expectation that’s been put upon him, but failing to score would have soured his superb performance beyond sweetening.
He played a big role in the first goal, holding the ball up and creating the opening with a tidy backheel, and was key to pretty much all of Chelsea’s effective attacking play, taking an extra beat in possession in a frantic game to touch the ball neatly past opponents and make the difference.
It was his best display of the season, as it was for so many. Marc Cucurella looked far more comfortable at left centre-back than he has done at left-back, just as Ben Chilwell looks far better at left wing-back. Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana were also excellent. Enzo Fernandez and Mateo Kovacic looks like a very promising midfield partnership. Sterling’s pace caused Dortmund all sorts of problems.
It’s a big, big win for Chelsea, but for Potter most of all. It’s evidence not only that these players are giving everything for him, but that they can work in his style effectively. It might just be enough for him to see out the season as Chelsea manager.
A good result combined with a good performance has been a long time coming. But you need luck in football, and for now at least, it’s turned in Chelsea’s favour.
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