Chelsea beats Dortmund 2-0, advances to Champions League QF
Maybe this will be the turning point for under fire Chelsea manager Graham Potter.
He went into Tuesday's game against Borussia Dortmund with questions hanging over his future. Now he has the Champions League quarterfinals to look forward to.
Kai Havertz' twice-taken penalty secured a 2-0 win in front co-owner Todd Boehly at Stamford Bridge to ease the pressure on Potter and spark celebrations inside the stadium rarely seen during such a troubled campaign.
Chelsea advanced 2-1 on aggregate after having trailed 1-0 from the round-of-16 first leg in Dortmund last month.
"We have been through a tough period and this competition means a lot for us," Potter said. "We wanted to progress and get into the last eight and it sets us up for the next few weeks."
There certainly were positives for Potter to take from the most important win of his early reign.
Not only did his team show the character to recover from losing the first leg, it did so by scoring two goals in a game for the first time in 2023.
Following Saturday's 1-0 win against Leeds, this is the first time Chelsea has recorded back-to-back victories since October.
Notably, it was also a night when Potter's luck may have turned, with VAR playing a major role in the Havertz winner after Raheem Sterling had lashed the 2021 European champions ahead on the night in the 43rd minute.
Referee Danny Makkelie was instructed to take a second look at a handball by Marius Wolf, which prompted the official to award a spot kick.
Havertz stepped up, sent Alexander Meyer the wrong way, but saw his shot come back off the post and cleared.
As Dortmund celebrated, VAR got to work again — this time spotting an encroachment in the box, which meant the kick had to be retaken.
Havertz repeated his technique, sent Meyer in the opposite direction again, but on this occasion, he found the back of the net to put Chelsea in front in the 53rd.
"I don't know what I was thinking but the referee let me retake the penalty," he said. "I was a bit nervous but I scored. I tried to wait and look at the keeper and the second one was a bit easier."
Potter admitted he couldn't watch the second penalty.
A run of just two wins in 12 had increased speculation about his future, and elimination from the Champions League would have placed further scrutiny on his position.
Chelsea had rediscovered that winning feeling just in time for the biggest night of his early reign.
The west London club ended its six-game winless run with victory against Leeds on Saturday, but the pressure was still on the manager given the manner in which the season has unravelled since October.
The Champions League represents Chelsea's last chance for silverware and possibly the only route back into next season's competition for the two-time European champions, who currently sit 10th in the Premier League.
Dortmund arrived on the back of 10 straight wins in all competitions, including the 1-0 victory in the first leg.
The German team also has one of the most sought-after players in world soccer in England midfielder Jude Bellingham but received an early blow when key player Julian Brandt was injured and substituted after just five minutes.
Chelsea went on to dominate the half and took the lead two minutes before the break through Sterling, who fired past Dortmund goalkeeper Meyer at the second attempt after Ben Chilwell's cross.
Havertz, whose goal secured the Champions League title for Chelsea in a 1-0 win in the final against Manchester City two years ago, had already hit the post in the first half and seen another effort ruled out for offside.
And he thought he had let another chance go by when firing his first penalty against the post before VAR came to his rescue.
"The last two weeks were hard, we lost a lot of games," Havertz said. "Tonight was important. This is a big tournament and it's the last trophy that we can win. We showed character and that we want to keep going."
While Bellingham described the retaken penalty as a "joke," Dortmund coach Edin Terzic resisted the temptation to criticize the referee.
"Fair play to Chelsea and congratulations," he said. "Both games were very close for both teams but, at the end of the day, they deserved it."
In the night's other game, Benfica routed Club Brugge 5-1 to advance to the quarterfinals 7-1 on aggregate.