Reece James’ Fiery Clash with Emre Can, and Graham Potter’s Long-Awaited Moment of Joy at Chelsea
Reece James became upset with Emre Can while Graham Potter savored a victorious moment with Chelsea, as they advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League by winning 2-1 on aggregate against Borussia Dortmund at Stamford Bridge last night.
Graham Potter, the head coach of Chelsea, needed a significant win to prove that he is the right person to oversee the long-term goals of Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali. This win would give him the necessary credibility. Last night at Stamford Bridge, he achieved this.
The performance of Chelsea was not the only factor. Although they played well for most of the game, they allowed Dortmund to dominate in the second half. However, Potter made some key decisions that ultimately paid off.
Despite not having Thiago Silva or Benoit Badiashile available, the 47-year-old chose to stick with the back three formation. He also opted to play Marc Cucurella as the left centre-back, even though he had the reliable Trevoh Chalobah, who previously played in that role during a loan spell at Lorient.
Both of Potter’s decisions proved successful as Marc Cucurella played outstandingly in the Chelsea defense. He was assertive in his defending and composed in his distribution of the ball. Furthermore, his flexibility allowed Ben Chilwell to make frequent attacking runs from the left wing-back position.
The last 14 months have been challenging for Ben Chilwell as he had to recover from ACL surgery and a hamstring injury before the World Cup. It took some time for the English international to regain his form, but he is now back to full strength and a crucial asset for Chelsea and Potter.
Numerous other players also performed impressively. Wesley Fofana was once again confident, and Kalidou Koulibaly was equally reliable in the heart of the back three. Reece James was not as dominant in attack as he usually is, but he demonstrated his usual tenacity, which was evident when he got into an angry exchange with Emre Can on the touchline during a break in play. The academy graduate even cheekily squirted water in the direction of the German during the altercation.
Each Chelsea player demonstrated a fighting spirit that may have left some questioning whether the team is truly behind Potter. Nonetheless, their performance at least suggested that the players are not willing to let their disappointing campaign end without a fight.
“To win a game and progress into the last eight of the Champions League, I have to say it’s up there in terms of wins and evenings in my career,” Potter explained in his post-match press conference. “The players were tremendous. The supporters were tremendous. You have to be against a team that are doing so well: ten games on the bounce, winning all of them.
“But I think over the two games we deserved to go through. I think we played a good game in Dortmund but we didn’t score. Today we did. It was a special night.”
Kai Havertz has had a difficult few weeks, as has the entire team. As the leader of the Chelsea attack, he has faced many challenges and has struggled to find his form, scoring just one goal in his last eight matches. However, against Dortmund, he was exceptional.
From the start of the game, it was clear that Havertz was ready to play, as he engaged and won duels with the Dortmund centre-backs. He showed clean touches, crisp passing, and intelligent movement into the half-space. It was a true demonstration of Havertz’s potential as a player.
Unfortunately, his first-half goal was ruled out, despite a superb finish from the edge of the box that hit the crossbar on its way into the net. He also hit the inside of the post after combining well outside the box to initiate an attack. However, his moment finally arrived early in the second half.
Prior to the match, Potter confirmed that Havertz would be Chelsea’s primary penalty taker following Jorginho’s departure to Arsenal in January. It was an opportunity for the 23-year-old to demonstrate why he was chosen for the role.
Havertz had not previously missed a penalty in his club career (excluding shootouts), and he confidently took his penalty with a slight stutter to get a read on goalkeeper Alexander Meyer before driving a low shot towards the bottom corner. Regrettably, the ball rebounded off the post.
Fortunately, VAR intervened and detected encroachment before Havertz took the penalty, resulting in a retake being ordered by the referee. Havertz went through the same procedure as before, but this time he found the bottom corner, proving Joao Felix’s belief in him to be correct.
It was a stroke of luck, but Havertz had earned it with his excellent performance. The challenge for the German international is to maintain this level of performance consistently throughout the season.
If Chelsea lost the game, their season would be effectively over for the last three months. The supporters understood this and did everything in their power to help the team win, greeting the team bus and even delaying the Dortmund bus. The noise level inside the stadium was intense, and the players and coaches were clearly invested in the outcome. After the game, Dortmund’s manager acknowledged the impact of the Chelsea supporters on the match. Following the win, Potter expressed gratitude to both his players and the supporters for sticking together during a tough period. The supporters’ passionate and unwavering support was credited as a major factor in Chelsea’s success.