Chelsea 2-0 Dortmund (agg 2-1): Havertz and Sterling net, Blues comback to qualify

The slow torture of a fine coach and a good man was finally called to a halt at Stamford Bridge last night. Chelsea forced their way past Borussia Dortmund into the quarter finals of the Champions League and as the supporters danced and roared, the club’s besieged manager Graham Potter threw off the ropes that have bound him and leapt down from the rack.

Defeat in this round of 16 tie would have placed Potter in grave danger of losing a job he only started in September but this 2-0 victory, which came hard on the heels of Chelsea’s Premier League win over Leeds on Saturday, gave him some precious breathing space and provided the most conclusive evidence so far that he is learning how to shepherd the lavish but bloated squad at his disposal.

He got a little bit of luck at last, too. Raheem Sterling, who had not scored since January 1, profited from a wild miskick to put Chelsea ahead on the night just before half time, and a twice-taken penalty from Kai Havertz early in the second half put them 2-1 ahead on aggregate. After the agonies he has endured, It would be hard to argue that Potter didn’t deserve a break.

This was, without doubt, Potter’s biggest victory in his short tenure at Chelsea. Dortmund are level on points with Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga and had won their previous ten games on the spin. The win bridged a credibility gap for Potter, too. He has led his team to the quarter finals of the Champions League, where they will mix again with European royalty. He is edging his way slowly into the elite.

He knows, too, that winning the tournament this season might be the only way of qualifying for it next season. Chelsea are tenth in the Premier League, 11 points behind fourth-placed Spurs, and even though Spurs are a team walking through treacle, that still feels like an improbable target, even before factoring in Liverpool’s recent momentum in their ascent towards the Champions League places.

It was said in the build-up to the match that Germany forward Karim Adeyemi, who scored the winner in the first leg but was ruled out of this match by injury, would be a big miss for the visitors. It begged the question whether there is anybody in Chelsea’s £1bn squad who would be considered a big miss. Or a miss of any sort at all.

That is not a comment on the quality of the players but it is a comment on the amount of them. So even though Thiago Silva was out, Chelsea still fielded a back three of Wesley Fofana, Kalidou Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella that cost £166m. The squad is so bloated that it is little wonder Potter still does not know his best team and that his best team does not know him.

Dortmund had different concerns. The first was negotiating London’s traffic, which they failed to do miserably. Their team coach was stuck in the congested streets of the west of the capital and got to the stadium late. The kick-off was delayed for ten minutes, which allowed ten more minutes for the raucous atmosphere inside the stadium to build.

When the match did kick off, clouds of yellow smoke billowed across the ground from flares that burned in the Dortmund section. Before two minutes had elapsed, Sterling burst out of the murk and ran through on goal after being played in by Havertz. Confronted by Alexander Meyer, Sterling was seized by indecision and the moment was gone. A linesman’s flag spared Sterling’s blushes.

Chelsea tore into Dortmund. There was no sign of the trepidation that has haunted so much of their play this season. Sterling released Joao Felix who shimmied past his man and was about to shoot when Meyer rushed from his line and dived at his feet. Havertz wasted a chance soon afterwards when he was clean through but blasted his right foot shot just wide.

For all Chelsea’s pressure, it was Dortmund who came closest to scoring in the opening 20 minutes. Wesley Fofana gave away a free kick on the edge of the Chelsea area and Marco Reus sent it dipping and weaving over the wall. It was flying towards the top corner when Kepa Arrizabalaga hurled himself to his right and pushed it away at full stretch.

Dortmund began to settle into the game but just before half an hour had elapsed, Chelsea came within an ace of taking the lead. A testing cross from the right from Reece James was only half cleared and Havertz pounced on it on the edge of the area. His left foot drive beat Meyer but rebounded off the foot of the post and rolled across the face of the goal to safety.

Chelsea thought they had scored eight minutes before half time when Havertz curled a shot in off the underside of the crossbar but an assistant’s flag was raised immediately for an earlier offside against Sterling. A sense of frustration began to pervade the excitement at the Bridge. When Ben Chilwell sliced a shot high into the Shed End three minutes before the break, the groans redoubled.

A minute later, Potter’s side were ahead. Chilwell drilled a low ball across goal from the left and Sterling swung wildly at it with his left foot. He miskicked it completely but the ball fell kindly for him and he tricked his way past Reus before crashing the bouncing ball past Meyer from ten yards out.

A minute after half time, Chelsea were awarded a penalty when a cross from Chilwell struck the outstretched hand of Marius Wolf and VAR reviewed the referee’s decision to allow play to continue. Havertz took the kick and halted during his run up, committing Meyer. But Havertz hit the foot of the post with his kick, it rebounded to safety and Dortmund celebrated their escape.

They did not celebrate for long. Replays showed that four Dortmund players, perhaps fooled by Havertz’s pause, had encroached in the box when the kick was taken. To Dortmund’s dismay, Havertz was given a chance to redeem himself. He went through the same routine, the same pause, and sent the ball towards the same corner. This time, it went inside the post. Chelsea were ahead on aggregate.

Jude Bellingham, England’s young jewel, had had a quiet game in the Dortmund midfield but he had a golden chance to drag his team back into the game after an hour when the ball sat up for him after a scramble six yards out. Bellingham prodded it towards the corner but it rolled agonisingly wide of Arrizabalaga’s left-hand post.

Bellingham sent a limp header over the bar late on and brought a fine save out of Arrizabalaga with an audacious attempt to beat him at his near post with a curling left foot drive but Dortmund could not find a way back.

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