Graham Potter deserved Chelsea good fortune in Champions League win
How Graham Potter’s luck finally turned: Marc Cucurella brought in from the cold and plays like man possessed, Wesley Fofana and the wing backs hit top gear and ALL his substitutions pay off at last
- Chelsea beat Borussia Dortmund to reach the Champions League last eight
- There was an element of good fortune about both of their goals on Tuesday
- But manager Graham Potter was certainly deserving of the fortunate breaks
On the list of managers who deserve a bit of luck, Graham Potter’s name would be right up near the top.
Surely not even his biggest doubters could begrudge him the breaks he got against Borussia Dortmund.
The in-form Germans were missing their first-leg match winner Karim Adeyemi and equally-decisive, highly-rated goalkeeper Gregor Kobel for the return.
The goal that levelled the tie on aggregate came after a Raheem Sterling air-shot briefly deceived Dortmund’s defence before working in his favour.
The goal that sent Chelsea through was a re-taken penalty after Kai Havertz’s initial effort hit the post and controversially awarded in the first place.
Potter though certainly has no need to apologise.
Graham Potter celebrates Chelsea’s 2-0 Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund
Raheem Sterling’s air-shot deceived Dortmund before he drew Chelsea level in the tie
Kai Havertz converted his penalty at the second time of asking after VAR replays showed encroachment by Dortmund players when his initial kick struck the post
His luck has been rotten this season, to the point where even the near £600million lavished on this squad has not been able to compensate for his misfortune, particularly when it comes to injuries.
Potter, who has carried himself with admirable dignity as the pressure on him has mounted, deserved a night like Tuesday that ended in emotional embraces between him and his staff after his big calls came off.
Marc Cucurella’s selection encapsulated that. The Spaniard has endured a difficult time on and off the pitch but came in from the cold after three games out to replace Benoit Badiashile on the left of Chelsea’s back three, played like a man possessed and was named man of the match.
Potter’s in-game management was good too, reacting to tiring bodies and Enzo Fernandez being on a tightrope in a frantic finish after being booked with well-timed substitutions. Just as crucially, he got the rub of the green too.
Potter said: ‘You always need a bit of luck, as much as we think we’re these talented coaches and talented players.
‘I would say before the World Cup, we had nine players out. If you have no Reece James, no N’Golo Kante, no Wesley Fofana, no Ben Chilwell, no [Ruben] Loftus-Cheek, no Sterling – these players are important for us as well.
‘They had some players missing and that goes in our favour. I’m not going to complain about that at all.’
Marc Cucurella chases down Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham during his man of the match outing
Potter’s job at Stamford Bridge hasn’t been helped by injuries to several key players
The two record-breaking transfer windows have swelled Chelsea’s squad to more than 30 players but still not been able to make up for the absence of, in particular, three of their most effective stars for big chunks of this season.
Kante, James and Chilwell have been among those struck down by Chelsea’s injury curse.
Some of those signings bought to be key parts of this new-look Chelsea team have been affected along with other regulars.
Injuries are part of the game but Chelsea’s pile up has been extreme.
At its worst, the number of players out at the same time ran into double figures.
That crisis has significantly handicapped Potter’s hopes of building a team capable of consistent Premier League performances.
It has also been one of the biggest mitigating factors Chelsea’s owners have taken into account as they have assessed Potter’s debut campaign so far.
Reece James put in another good performance – having suffered injury issues this season
Enzo Fernandez was left walking a tightrope in a frantic finish but the Blues got the job done
The situation is now slowly starting to clear up with Potter able to field brilliant wing-back pair James and Chilwell in the same side for just the eighth time this season against Dortmund.
Kante’s comeback is edging closer too after he made a return to training after being out with a hamstring injury since August.
Wesley Fofana’s recent return has also been timely as, for the last two games, has been that of Mateo Kovacic who has had a stop-start campaign.
If that trend of the treatment room clearing continues it can be argued that it might then be a bit fairer to judge Potter.
He was in a perilous position heading into Chelsea’s last two games with their form under Potter far poorer than expected, even if explanations can be offered as to why and expectations were already not exactly the highest amid all the upheaval at the club this season.
But, backed into a corner, both Potter and his players came out fighting, digging in to grind out a Premier League win against Leeds and overcome Dortmund in the Champions League on a rousing Stamford Bridge night.
Raheem Sterling scored Chelsea’s first goal after a spell of intense pressure from the hosts
Kai Havertz netted the winner from the spot after Chelsea had been awarded a penalty
Havertz originally missed the spot-kick, but re-took to score following an encroachment
Chelsea have scrapped for their manager when their situation reached the now-or-never point, backing up the words of support from the likes of Loftus-Cheek and insistence from sources close to the squad that this is not one that has given up on Potter.
Two things he has needed, it appears, is some of those players back and a little bit of luck.
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