If this was the night when Graham Potter’s great comeback began, the night when he truly arrived as Chelsea’s manager and connected with the fans, he will always look back fondly on Raheem Sterling’s unpredictable finishing confusing Borussia Dortmund and a fussy VAR handing Kai Havertz a second go at winning this tie from the penalty spot.
Perhaps it was inevitable that this team would not take the easy route to goal. Finishing remains an issue for Chelsea and at times it seemed their wastefulness would cost them again. That they were stronger than Dortmund was never in doubt. Yet there was no guarantee Chelsea were going to make their superiority count and, as the misses piled up during the first half, it was hard not to fear it was going to be a familiar tale of woe.
This could be a defining moment. For once Potter was a lucky manager – and deservedly so. A week ago he was two defeats away from the sack. Now Chelsea’s owners will feel they were wise to stand by their man. Their season has meaning again. It does not take much to alter the narrative and Potter, who has continued to trust his tactical acumen, will feel anything is possible after Chelsea reached the Champions League quarter-finals thanks to strange goals from Sterling and Havertz.
The fans were with Potter and the early signs were positive: Chelsea insistent and incisive, Enzo Fernández and Mateo Kovacic dominating midfield, the best thing about Dortmund the yellow smoke billowing from the away end.
The visitors did not resemble a side on a 10-match winning run. Dortmund were cold, Julian Brandt making way for Gio Reyna after five minutes, and their high line was vulnerable. João Félix, Havertz and Ben Chilwell had chances to break the deadlock.
But Sébastien Haller was isolated against Chelsea’s new-look back three of Wesley Fofana, Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella. Potter’s big calls were spot-on. Reece James’s return at right wing-back made a difference and, with Thiago Silva injured and Benoît Badiashile ineligible, the gamble on Cucurella at left centre-back was inspired.
Cucurella, who had not been involved since the first leg, was outstanding. The £62m Spaniard gave nothing away and nor did Chelsea. Niklas Süle’s booking for timewasting spoke volumes. Dortmund were creaking. Kovacic sensed it, winning a loose ball and charging down the left just before the interval.
Chilwell arrived when Kovacic ran out of room. The left wing-back crossed and there was Sterling, ready with a miskick, baffling Dortmund. It was vintage Sterling: panicky and brilliant all at once. He tried again, scampering on to his left foot, and this time he crashed a shot into the roof of the net. Billy Reid, Potter’s No 2, turned and roared.
The momentum was with Chelsea. They made a fast start to the second half, forcing errors from Dortmund. Sterling found Chilwell, whose cross clipped Marius Wolf’s left hand. The outcome was inevitable when the referee, Danny Makkelie, checked the monitor.
Naturally Chelsea made it complicated. They had not scored more than once in a game since 27 December and had put Havertz – two goals since Christmas – on penalties following Jorginho’s move to Arsenal.
Havertz took a stop-start run-up before sending Meyer the wrong way and the ball against the post. Was it all about to go wrong for Potter? Not quite. To Dortmund’s fury, the VAR was telling Makkelie about encroachment. Havertz stood over the spot again and this time he kept his cool, going through the same routine but making sure to keep the ball inside the post.
Behind on aggregate, Dortmund stirred. Bellingham, who had an inconsistent game, sidefooted wide. Wolf tested Arrizabalaga and Potter responded by shoring up his midfield, Conor Gallagher, Denis Zakaria and Ruben Loftus-Cheek coming on.
Inevitably Chelsea retreated, six added minutes testing their nerve. But when Dortmund’s final attack ended with Wolf shooting straight at Arrizabalaga, Chelsea could dream of another European run.