Signed, Sealed & Delivered: Graham Potter saves Chelsea’s season to pass defining ‘make or break’ test
A week of relentless pressure on Graham Potter to save his job ended in the 47-year-old saving Chelsea’s season as he punched the air after the full-time whistle came following their Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund.
Potter was handed the ultimatum by the Chelsea hierarchy; the games against Leeds United and Dortmund were ‘make or break’ and could have decided his fate at Stamford Bridge. He admitted to feeling the pressure as fans called for him to be dismissed just six months after being appointed as Thomas Tuchel’s successor.
They narrowly got past Leeds United with a 1-0 win to end the three-game losing streak, but all eyes were on the Dortmund tie. Chelsea were one goal down heading into the second leg, but Tuesday could have proved to be a turning point for the Blues.
Raheem Sterling’s 43rd minute opener was backed up by Kai Havertz’s re-taken penalty, sparing his blushes after initially hitting the post, to turn the Round of 16 tie around and it sealed their spot in the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a 2-1 aggregate win.
“To win a game and progress into the last eight of the Champions League, you have to say it’s up there in terms of wins and evenings in my career, for sure,” said the Chelsea head coach post-match.
When Potter entered the pitch once the whistle blew, the crowd’s reaction, the players’ reactions and the head coach’s reaction told the full story. A huge weight off the shoulders had been taken off – have the shackles finally been released?
The 47-year-old looked towards the Matthew Harding End and threw two strong fist pumps in the air, finishing off with a wry smile to showcase that he’d overcome the pressure to save his job and deliver when it mattered most.
Potter has struggled personally, with his mental health and family life being affected, as well as death threats being made towards himself and his children in recent weeks.
“Inevitably, in life, you’re going to have bad times and good times,” Potter told reporters at Stamford Bridge. “I don’t see any other way to look at it. It’s how you react to the bad times, get some perspective and analyse it in the correct way. Things are never bad forever but it felt like that sometimes!”
He has had the continued backing of the hierarchy and his players, who have stuck by him in the difficult months, and Tuesday may have been the moment he needed to breathe a new lease of life at Chelsea to kick on between now, the end of the season and the rest of his time in west London.
Chelsea are currently 10th in the Premier League and exiting the Champions League would have seen their season all but end, they would have essentially had nothing to play for.
Potter found his emotions during the game, urging the crowd to lift the noise inside Stamford Bridge to push them on over the finish line. It was a defining week, a defining night – Potter and Chelsea passed it.
Despite the two important results, this is only the start for Chelsea. They now have to back this up in the coming weeks, starting with Leicester City on Saturday. A special European night will be forgotten about should they fall to defeat against the Foxes at the King Power Stadium.
Chelsea are aware of that, Potter is even more aware of it, telling BT Sport: “You have to recover and prepare for Saturday. It’s great for the boys. Two wins, two clean sheets after a tough period. It’s how you respond. The players have been fantastic.”
It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to close the large gap to qualify for the Champions League via the Premier League next season, but hopes of winning the competition for a third time remain alive. Chelsea will learn their quarter-final fate next Friday.
For now, everybody connected with Chelsea can celebrate and breathe a huge sigh of relief at the change in results this week. Nobody will want to face the Blues if this turns out to be their turning point. But minds now have to keep focused to ensure the only way is now up for Potter and Co.