Chelsea 2-0 Borussia Dortmund (2-1 on aggregate) (Sterling 44′, Havertz pen 55′)
STAMFORD BRIDGE — Tomorrow, he will score. Four words to haunt any forward on a barren run. And the cupboards had been looking pretty bare for Kai Havertz: seven games without a goal in a run lasting six weeks and more than 500 minutes on the pitch.
And for quite a while it had seemed as though Joao Felix’s pre-match prediction had indeed jinxed his teammate.
First when Havertz struck the inside of the right post, then when he curled one in via the crossbar only for it to be ruled out by an earlier offside. Then, again, when, as the newly-designated penalty taker, he struck the inside of the right post for a second time with a chance to put Chelsea ahead for the first time in their Champions League last 16 tie with Borussia Dortmund.
Yet sometimes fortune and fate work in mysterious ways. Certainly it did for Havertz, who had looked to the sky after his penalty miss, wondering what he had to do to score. Have another go, apparently.
Having awarded the penalty for a handball after a VAR review and a check of the pitch-side monitor, referee Danny Makkelie ordered a check of the penalty kick before ordering a retake, citing several players encroaching in the area as it was taken, even though at least a couple of those were wearing blue shirts.
Havertz — Felix’s premonition surely repeating inside his head in a ghostly whisper — went the same way. And this time found the bottom corner.
What was going on? Chelsea had not scored two goals in a game since December 27, but as an unseasonably cold Spring blizzard swept across England, perhaps a cold snap was just what Graham Potter needed to jolt his players out of their recent slump.
Dortmund fans had flooded through the streets of Fulham en route to the stadium, hoping their team would add to the storm of confusion and uncertainty that has engulfed Potter’s six months at Chelsea.
Equally, you could tell it wasn’t you’re run-of-the-mill game by the way Chelsea supporters congregated in significant numbers outside Stamford Bridge well before kick-off to greet the team coach with Chelsea-blue flares and encouraging chants, clinging to their own last real hope of something to celebrate in this first season under new owners for the first time in decades. Police on horseback were forced to deal with the pyrotechnic-wielding supporters, threatening criminal records to those trying to sneak them through the turnstiles.
But while attentions were on Chelsea fans, Dortmund’s snuck flares of their own through security, and from the stadium’s small away alcove they set them off in numbers at the ref’s whistle, bathing the entire pitch in a yellow fog that filled the nose with acrid smoke.
Pressure was ever-so-fractionally lifted from Potter’s shoulder following a slender win against Leeds at the weekend (ending a run of six games without one). And the Chelsea starting line-up to face Dortmund had a very Graham Potter feel to it — bundles of skill and technique and interchangeable positions. And, with an average age of 25 years and 255 days, it was their second-youngest starting XI in a Champions League knockout game ever. Signs that if he is going to go down, he’ll go down sticking to his own ethos and principles, in his own slightly quirky way.
And though the players seemed to respond — to what? The occasion? The crowd? The weather? Whatever they responded to, it still felt, for almost the entirety of the first half, as though a goal simply would not come.
Raheem Sterling finding himself one-on-one with Dortmund keeper Alexander Meyer in the opening few minutes and dithering. Havertz striking a rebound well, only to see it bounce off the inside of Meyer’s left post, fizz tantalisingly across goal and fizzle out of play wide of the right one.
Sterling one-on-one with Meyer again, effort saved, and Havertz curling a delicious rebound in via the crossbar, only for the linesman to raise his flag for Sterling’s initial run. Kalidou Koulibaly with goal wide open, misfiring.
Then it came. And even when it did, it had initially seemed as though it wouldn’t, when Sterling completely fluffed his first attempt, before regaining control of the ball and lashing in at the second.
And yet still it had seemed as though they would not score two, as though Havertz was destined to be cursed by his team-mate’s prediction after Makkelie awarded the penalty, three minutes into the second half, striking the post again. What seemed like five long minutes later, he converted.
So two goals for Chelsea, a bad habit broken, Dortmund’s 11-game 100 per cent 2023 winning run ended, unexpected progression to the Champions League quarter-finals and Havertz finally scoring. And everyone is waiting to hear what bold prediction prophet Felix makes next.