Chelsea – Borussia Dortmund: Shed End Sighs A Breath Of Relief (2-0)
A taut Stamford Bridge crowd observed the second leg of a matchup in close balance. Graham Potter, whose work has been under extreme scrutiny, could not afford to bow out in the Round of 16 of this tournament. Fortunately for him and the fans, the display appeased their desires.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
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Chelsea have looked overawed at the overhaul that now confronts them. Todd Boehly has splurged over half a billion pounds on squad reconstruction but has seen little return on this investment. The club has won only two of their last ten fixtures in the Premier League and scored just twice in their previous seven games in all competitions— including a 1-0 loss to the visitors in the first leg of the tie. Critics are demanding Graham Potter prove he has not hoodwinked his way into the spotlight.
In stark contrast, Borussia Dortmund are in fine fettle. At the outset of this campaign, Edin Terzić did not seem to be the man that would solve the chronic failures of recent years. Those faults have not all disappeared, but the yellow and black faithful have reason to believe in a more steely unit under his stewardship. Level on points with Bayern Munich at the top of the table, they have won all ten of their matches in the new year. Could this newfound edge inspire their progression into the quarter-final?
Terzić soon sorted out his midfield, but selections in the other thirds have been more changeable. Lately, Mats Hummels has struggled for minutes in the center of the defense, while Julian Ryerson has settled in on the left of the back four. At the opposite end of the pitch, Julian Brandt has starred from the right flank, while Sébastien Haller led the line. Karim Adeyemi, who decided the contest in Germany three weeks ago, was absent with a hamstring injury, so Marco Reus completed the offense.
Potter has frequently used a back four in the new year but moved away from the 4-2-3-1 structure he deployed in the 2-0 defeat to Spurs. A 1-0 triumph over Leeds United followed on the weekend, and he stuck to a 3-4-3 formation for this crunch clash. The manager also inserted two new players into the starting eleven. Benoît Badiashile was not a part of the squad, making way for Marc Cucurella on the left edge of the back three, and Reece James replaced Ruben Loftus-Cheek as the right wing-back.
Hindrances grow for Dortmund
Within five minutes of kickoff, Dortmund’s task of holding onto their lead had taken a knock. Brandt had felt discomfort in the back of his left leg, forcing Terzić to haul him off and bring on Giovanni Reyna. Their opponents were also keen to unsettle the rhythm in the opening stages of the contest.
6th minute: pressing sequence from Chelsea. Sterling assumes the central role in the front three, chasing down the ball carrying Can. Félix had access to the passing lane to Wolf, allowing Chelsea to force the ball inward and Chilwell to stay deeper. Mateo Kovačić marks Bellingham, then rushes Can and the left wing-back releases responsibility for covering Reyna to Cucurella, who forces a turnover.
In the first leg, Chelsea had defended in a 4-2-3-1 formation where they did not sustain high pressure. Brandt’s halfspace involvement roaming deeper off the right flank took center stage in this construct, and the Germans frequently engaged with a medium block. On the other hand, the switch to a 3-4-3 system allowed the hosts to mirror the 4-3-3 buildup structure and disrupt its usual paths of progress.
Whether Can was at the base of midfield or formed a base of three, Havertz was nearby. The narrow positioning of Raheem Sterling and João Felix covered the center-backs. The pair could then flexibly guide the buildup. They either pinned the ball circulation on the flank or stood slightly wider to press with curved running and funnel possession into the center. Behind them, the wing-backs pushed out to close down the fullbacks, and the back three tracked dropping movements from Dortmund’s forwards.
Spells deep on the ball were less common as time lapsed. Signals of the visitors’ new development revealed themselves. Terzić gave both wingers freedom to roam centrally, Bellingham carried less of a burden than in the past in the buildup, and asymmetric patterns flowed on the wings. The inward diagonal passing from Wolf on the right contrasted with the routine inverting advances of Guerreiro from the left. But the higher possession share of the Germans rarely rooted them close to the box.
"Stamford Bridge was rocking" 😍— Chelsea FC News (@Chelsea_FL) March 8, 2023
Potter reacts to the Blues' 2-0 win against Dortmund 👏 pic.twitter.com/vecPfnMomN
King Kai stands up on the European stage
Less was more for the home team. They attacked in a 3-4-2-1 structure where the division of roles among the front three was not as it looked on paper. Félix regularly involved himself on the ball with dribbles from the center or the left halfspace, receiving from the progressive Cucurella. On the other hand, Sterling intervened much later in the offense, releasing Havertz through his movement on and near the last line. The central forward’s contributions were brief but punctual and highly decisive.
36th minute: offensive sequence from Chelsea. Before this ball progression, Havertz had drifted to the right halfspace, and Sterling lurked on the last line. Wesley Fofana then drives forward with the ball, breaking the lines to find Havertz between the lines. Sterling moves deep, forcing Can and Süle to narrow the direct route to goal while Félix shows diagonally in the pocket to receive and then shoot.
In the 43rd minute, Havertz dodged screening cover from Can, pulling out toward the left wing. He chopped inside Wolf, enticed Reyna to him, and then backheeled a pass between the two markers into Kovačić. The captain was equally elusive, brushing off a tackle from Özcan and dueling successfully with Süle. The ball spiraled to Chilwell, whose cross found Sterling. His teammate scuffed his shot but steadied himself to hammer a second strike into the roof of the net. The tie was equal at half time.
The hosts pushed forward with the wind in their sails. Chilwell again bombed down the left flank as a free man from a switch of play, squaring up against Wolf. The right back stopped his delivery with a flailing hand in the box, and the intervention of VAR penalized him. Havertz took on responsibility from twelve yards: he sent Alex Meyer the wrong way but slammed the post. However, encroachment afforded the forward a shot at redemption. He repeated his routine, now finding the back of the net.
Potter closes out the contest
The guests still had nearly three quarters of an hour to peg back the Londoners and take the tie to extra time. Terzić responded just past the hour mark with an offensive substitution: Özcan left the pitch, and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens took his place. Before that alteration, Bellingham skewed a strike wide of the post, arriving from the room on the edge of the penalty area to the right of the pivot.
60th minute: offensive combination from Dortmund. Guerreiro had initially driven diagonally into the right halfspace to exploit room Sterling vacated. Haller rotated wide to pin James and Fofana, while Reyna stayed on the inside shoulder of Enzo Fernández to briefly pin him as the man that engages the fullback. Once Bellingham receives the ball, Guerreiro has pinned the defense and Kovačić does not jump to press the midfielder, allowing him to dummy away from Fernández and link with Guerreiro.
Potter reacted to slow down the momentum. Sterling still lurked high up the pitch to search for opportunities to make deep runs in transition, but Gallagher came on for Félix and marshaled the space outside Fernández. Later, the manager brought on Christian Pulisic for Sterling and put Loftus-Cheek on the left of midfield in a 5-3-2 setup. The stability was sufficient to settle the scoreline.
Staring at the prospect of a season outside the competition, Chelsea have at least elongated their stay in this year’s edition of the Champions League. And if Potter’s future was as precarious as some have feared, the events of the last week should have allayed fears in the short term. Flexibility might have defined his spell at Brighton, but the back three might be a suitable foundation in the here and now.
Dortmund’s ten game winning run has now ended— and so have hopes of a deep Champions League run. A little luck, a cleaner bill of health within the roster, and sharper tactical roles have led to this streak. Here, the outcome might have differed if particular options were fit, but Terzić’s men lacked the threat to make up for the uncertainty of tight margins. Yet, all is not lost. A perfect opportunity presents itself in the Revierderby to claim bragging rights and continue a domestic charge to glory.
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