Graham Potter hails Marc Cucurella as Chelsea qualifier

The Blues reversed a 1-0 deficit from the first leg in Germany, sealed a stunning Champions League battle and gave Potter his best night as manager at Stamford Bridge.

Cucurella has not featured in the manager’s last three matchday squads but was brought into the back three with Thiago Silva and Benoit Badiashile unavailable.

Goals on either side of the half from Raheem Sterling and a repeated penalty from Kai Havertz won it for the Blues after they bombed the Bundesliga runners-up and could have been out of sight in a first half where they dominated.

It was a performance that finally demonstrated the potential in the team after owner Todd Boehly’s stormy January transfer spend, with Joao Felix confidently smashing down the left flank of Chelsea’s attack and record-breaking British signing Enzo Fernandez in near-total control in midfield.

But it was Cucurella, whose incorporation after a difficult personal time Potter admitted had been a risk, who best rose to the occasion with an energetic, focused display of high pressing.

“I think Marc was the man of the match,” said Potter, agreeing with UEFA as the Spaniard accepted the official award.

“If the result hadn’t gone our way, I’m not sure about the consequences. I’m happy for him.

“When things are as bad as we are, you accept the criticism and Marc has dealt with it well. We tried to shield him a bit while still picking the moment (to bring him back).

“We thought the crowd would have our back tonight because it’s the Champions League. With Benoit not available I thought he gave us some balance in the back three with his left foot. Luckily he delivered a top performance.”

Chelsea peppered Dortmund’s goal in the first half with Felix and Havertz both coming close, the latter hitting the post with a wicked shot late in the period.

Sterling’s 43rd-minute goal was met with raucous support from the crowd at Stamford Bridge before Havertz’s twice-taken penalty completed the turnaround, hitting the post for the first time but embracing his second chance after Dortmund’s players went in.

It gave Potter some much-needed breathing space, especially after Saturday’s unconvincing 1-0 win over Leeds that ended the team’s six winless streak. This time the performance matched the magnitude of the result.

“It was an important game, it was a special atmosphere,” Potter said. “It was a passionate evening.

“Stamford Bridge rocked, I thought so. Our performance contributed to this. We pressed high, we tried to win some duels. We tried to attack them and play some decent stuff against a top team.

“It’s not just tonight. We had a hard time. We had to react against Leeds. We played well away from Dortmund (first leg) and lost. The moment we’re in nobody wants to hear that we played well, had some chances and should have scored.

“We had a bad first half (loss) against Southampton and it could have resulted in an awkward situation. Everyone had to stick together and suffer together and find a way.”

Edin Terzic, center left, congratulates Graham Potter after Chelsea's winEdin Terzic, center left, congratulates Graham Potter after Chelsea’s win (John Walton/PA)

Dortmund boss Edin Terzic thought the penalty awarded to his team by VAR for a handball against Marius Wolf was the decision that ultimately changed the direction of the tie against his side.

“If a decision takes five or six minutes until you know it wasn’t an easy decision,” Terzic said.

“I’m the manager, I’m responsible for the performances. But not for the performance of the referee.

“Both legs were very close games. Customs decide whether you go to the next round. We were unlucky for a few moments, but that’s part of the game.

“It was clear to us that we had to show two top performances. Both teams deserved to go through, but Chelsea scored twice and we didn’t, so we can’t complain about being out.” Graham Potter hails Marc Cucurella as Chelsea qualifier

Russell Falcon

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