Ahead of the most critical moment in his reign as Chelsea head coach to date, Graham Potter is acutely aware of the rewards of a victory over Borussia Dortmund.
“It’s a big game, an exciting game,” he said on the eve of their clash with the German club at Stamford Bridge. ‘[It is] chance of qualifying for the Champions League. We are looking forward to a special night at Stamford Bridge.
On the one hand, Potter is right. The “Special” will indeed be an apt conclusion to the evening in question if his team retaliates with a goal against Dortmund to secure a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
However, given how disappointed they have looked so far in 2023, how unstrategic and uninspired they seem as they jump from one disaster to another, that obviously remains a huge “if”.
Saturday’s nervous 1-0 win over Leeds was only Chelsea’s second win of the calendar year, and although only three points mattered in the end, there were plenty of cracks for them at the moment.
Graham Potter prepares for his most important performance as Chelsea manager on Tuesday
The Blues will take on Borussia Dortmund in a crucial second leg of the Champions League round of 16
Dortmund will go into the game with a 1-0 lead in the bank after winning their opener last month
Potter must plan for a win to keep Chelsea’s season and future alive
They still only scored one goal from open play in their last seven matches, which is equivalent to nearly 700 minutes of football play. As of December 27, they still failed to score two or more goals in a single match.
That needs to change if they want to overtake Dortmund, who are bouncing up King’s Road with a 1-0 lead in the bank after winning their first leg in Germany last month.
If not, this “special” night that Potter longs for will vanish into thin air and perhaps put the final nail in his blues coffin.
This last-16 draw has the aura of a final for both Chelsea and their coach under fire. If you lose, the season will come to an end, you will be out of all cup competitions, and you will reach the point of no return in the fight for the top four.
Despite having shown refreshing patience to stick with him to this point, Todd Boehly would certainly have crippling doubts about Potter’s suitability to lead their long-term project if Dortmund landed another knockout blow here.
Although he joined a team in turmoil both on and off the pitch last September, and was bombarded with an overwhelming array of reinforcements just two months ago, he is running out of time to at least get a glimpse of the bright future his management can promise.
Beating Dortmund today on the bridge would be exactly that. Yes, the chances of advancing to the semi-finals will still be high. They could have done just as well in the last eight. But overcoming that hurdle would be uplifting as never before in Potter’s tenure, providing a long-awaited morale boost and suggesting he might be cut off from the big stage after all.
It’s almost win or lose for Potter on Tuesday night; either save the season and your own future, or stare down the barrel of a Boehly gun.
Saturday’s nervous 1-0 win over Leeds has now almost covered up the cracks in his side
In their last seven matches in all competitions, they still scored just one goal from open play
Todd Boehly will no doubt be considering whether Potter is the right person for the job
Unfortunately for the 47-year-old, their rivals arrive in the capital in fine form, having avoided defeat in all competitions since November 11 and keeping up with Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga.
Inspired by the English prodigy Jude Bellingham in midfield, Dortmund are a team full of confidence and will therefore perform the toughest tests.
Nevertheless, Chelsea can take confidence from their narrow defeat at Signal Iduna Park last month, despite leaving empty-handed. They created plenty of opportunities that they squandered and deserved to take at least some of the loot away.
This was a familiar topic not only to Potter, but also to the coach who came before him, Thomas Tuchel. Finishing below par has marred countless good performances by both managers in recent years, leaving pundits to conclude that it could have been a different story for them “another day”.
Potter and Chelsea desperately need this to be one of those other nights this evening. Such a pivotal outing may bring distrust, but when opportunities arise the likes of Joao Felix, Kai Havertz and Raheem Sterling must make Dortmund pay.
They are believed to be lined up with a three-man defense against Dortmund, as in the win over Leeds, which proved the system was behind some of their most impressive wins over the last three or four seasons.
Reece James is expected to pass a late fitness test and start as a right-back, which will be a significant boost for Potter, with Ben Chilwell on the opposite side.
In this form, Chelsea can take advantage of the offensive qualities of James and Chilwell on the flanks and give Havertz better service from the side at the point of attack, while giving Enzo Fernandez enough protection behind his back.
Potter will cross his fingers and toes that he stumbled upon a formula to get the beleaguered group out of the crisis and into the next round of the Champions League. His future as head coach may depend on it.
It promises to be a big night for the 47-year-old as he fights for his future at Stamford Bridge