Graham Potter punched the air in front of supporters last night as he celebrated a win which might just have saved his job, as well as the club’s season.
Was this a turning point for Potter? If he goes on to be a success at Chelsea, as Todd Boehly still believes he will, this might be the match he looks back on in years to come, the moment everything began to change.
Certainly, it felt like the start of something for Chelsea, who produced their most complete performance under Potter to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the last-16 first leg and ease the pressure on their head coach.
Potter is not out of the woods yet, and there are enough potential pitfalls in the weeks ahead to definitively shift the mood again, including matches against five of the top six in the run-in, but Chelsea now have a statement win under their belt and a Champions League quarter-final to come.
Whatever happens from here on in, Potter will always have that on his CV — and if he can win at least one leg of the last-eight, he will surpass Sir Bobby Robson as the English coach with the most Champions League victories in a single season: six.
“To win a game to get to the last eight of the Champions League, you have to say it is up there for wins and evenings in my career,” he said.
Potter’s celebrations in front of the Matthew Harding Stand suggest he is gradually coming out of his shell and maybe the start of him building a bond with fans, who created a fine atmosphere at Stamford Bridge, even if the travelling Dortmund fans consistently made the most noise.
From the off, the head coach was more animated and engaged on the touchline than he has been at any point at Chelsea, urging supporters to get behind his players and reacting to every blow on the pitch.
In a telling indication of the stakes, Potter returned to his seat in the dugout and could not watch as Kai Havertz retook his second-half penalty for the winning goal, having struck the post with his first effort.
“I watched the first penalty and that didn’t work too well, so I thought I would look at the floor and wait for the crowd,” he said.
The head coach acknowledged that his side got lucky when the VAR judged Dortmund players to have encroached in the penalty box for Havertz’s initial spot-kick, but Chelsea deserved to win on the balance of play.
Potter might also argue that his side are due a little fortune, and even before Raheem Sterling’s strike broke the deadlock two minutes before the interval, they had managed to everything but score. Havertz struck the inside of the post and had a magnificent goal disallowed for a marginal offside; Ben Chilwell’s free-kick hit Kalidou Koulibaly’s standing leg when it was easier for the centre-half to score.
Potter afterwards hailed his players’ spirit and character, but he might have been most pleased with their style, which was, at times, clearly in his own image.
Chelsea pressed Dortmund high from the start, cutting off their passing lanes and hassling them into mistakes, while some of their attacking football, including the move leading to the penalty, was top drawer.
Potter got his tactics and big decisions right on the night, with Marc Cucurella, in for the ineligible Benoit Badiashile, outstanding on the left of the back three, snapping into tackles and setting the tone for Chelsea. Not long ago, he was booed by his own fans, but last night he collected UEFA’s man-of-the-match trophy.
Chelsea have won the Champions League from unlikelier positions than this.
Potter’s faith in Havertz was also rewarded, as the German put in a display full of intelligence and menace in a centre-forward role. He showed strong character to place his retaken penalty in the exact spot he had intended for the first, low to the left of goalkeeper Alexander Meyer.
The result felt more significant than the narrow victory over struggling Leeds, particularly as Bundesliga leaders Dortmund arrived here on a 10-match winning streak, and should be transformative for confidence, providing hope that Chelsea’s strange campaign is alive and could yet end on a high.
It is surely too late for Potter’s side to return to this competition next season via a top-four finish, even considering the inconsistencies of the teams above them, but some form of European football is within reach, and they have won the Champions League from unlikelier positions than this.
Supporters can afford to dream and, given the quality in their squad and their pedigree in the competition, no one will want Potter’s Chelsea in the quarter-finals.