Just when Chelsea looked down and out, they showed the world why they deserve to be at Europe’s top table.
This was the night where the endless rallying cries from Graham Potter, his players and the Chelsea hierarchy turned into something more.
Borussia Dortmund, with 10 wins on the spin, came to Stamford Bridge holding a 1-0 lead and expected by most to beat a side with just two victories in 12. Yet they were sent packing from the Champions League, and deservedly so.
Potter is often criticised for his demeanor on the touchline, but looked revitalised tonight. He willed his team on, asked for every refereeing decision and yelled instructions at his players. When Kai Havertz stepped up, for the second time, to take a penalty, Potter couldn’t bring himself to look, reacting only to the celebrations of the home crowd.
This visceral coaching style felt both organic and real on the night, raising his game in the vibrant atmosphere created at Stamford Bridge by a fanbase inspired by the prestige of the Champions League itself.
That energy was also felt by the players who managed to sustain a high-quality and high-energy performance for a full 90 minutes for the first time since before the World Cup. This was the first time in 2023 they had score twice in a game.
Though for much of the first half it looked like Chelsea would create chances without getting the breakthrough. Raheem Sterling finally scored a scruffy 43rd-minute goal to break the deadlock.
Having taken a swing and a miss at Ben Chilwell’s initial pullback, Sterling then relied on a ricochet off a Dortmund defender to lash a second attempt into the rood of the net. Dortmund goalkeeper Alexander Meyer was motionless.
Potter danced around the touchline with pure joy, having seen his side finally rewarded with a goal after 30 shots across 120 minutes against the German giants.
Before the goal, it was almost comical how many chances Chelsea wasted. Kalidou Koulibaly had missed an open goal, Joao Felix missed a chance from three yards out and Havertz hit the inside of the post.
Chilwell, who was exceptional, then won a penalty early in the second half. Havertz hit the post but was awarded another attempt after Salih Ozcan encroached in the box.
Potter closed his eyes and bowed his head and Havertz showed all the calmness needed to send the keeper the wrong way just the day after being announced as the club’s new primary penalty taker.
The boss last week admitted his job was “in peril” but has since found balance in his latest iteration of the 3-4-3 formation, is starting to garner a connection with the fans and got a response from his players for the biggest 90 minutes of his managerial career.
After the final whistle, the players dived on Potter, a man who has deflected so much pressure away from them.
Chelsea remain 10th in the Premier League and fell short in both domestic cup competitions, but talk of a trophyless season has been put on hold. And so has speculation over Potter’s future.