Travelling to Stamford Bridge with a slender 1-0 lead to protect, Borussia Dortmund aim to finish the job in the second leg of their last-16 Champions League affair with Chelsea on Tuesday night.
Karim Adeyemi’s sensational solo winner settled a tight contest at the Westfalenstadion three weeks ago, as Graham Potter goes in search of a priceless win that may just buy him some more time in the dugout.
Whether Adeyemi’s stunning winner or his backflip celebration was more impressive is another debate entirely, but the German starlet’s crucial contribution in the first leg has Dortmund just 90 minutes away from putting another dampener on Chelsea’s miserable 2023.
A combination of Gregor Kobel, the woodwork and an astounding Emre Can clearance off the line kept Chelsea at bay, and in a game where profligacy seemed set to win out, Adeyemi took the ball down brilliantly inside his own half, skipped past Enzo Fernandez and Kepa Arrizabalaga and slotted home.
While there were reasons for an under-fire Potter to leave Germany with cautious optimism, subsequent defeats to Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur only led for the sacking calls to grow louder and louder, and not all Chelsea fans were pleased to see Wesley Fofana sink Leeds United at the weekend to end a six-game winless run for their side.
With the Blues’ clashes against Leeds and Dortmund said to be pivotal to Potter’s short-term future, the Englishman can certainly get back into the good books of the powers-that-be by turning their last-16 tie around, but exits at this stage are not a novelty to the West London giants.
Indeed, Chelsea suffered four successive Champions League last-16 exits between 2014-15 and 2019-20 before going all the way in the 2020-21 campaign, but from their last seven Champions League knockout ties in which they have lost the first leg away from home, they have advanced from four of them.
Fofana’s header versus Leeds also ended a three-game run without making the net ripple for Chelsea, who have four clean sheets from their last six contests at Stamford Bridge, but their paltry goal tally of just four strikes from their last 10 games is frankly egregious.
Having experienced the true meaning of close but no cigar season after season, Dortmund enter the spring months with domestic and European titles well within reach thanks to an astonishing run of form since the turn of the year.
The team led by Edin Terzic have played 10 competitive games across the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League since the World Cup, and they have remarkably won all 10 of them, most recently sinking Leipzig 2-1 in Friday’s Bundesliga battle courtesy of Can and Marco Reus’s efforts.
Still only trailing first-placed Bayern Munich on goal difference in the Bundesliga standings, BVB are on the warpath, and just a second Champions League quarter-final berth since the 2016-17 season is firmly within their grasp.
Dortmund’s stunning green streak in 2023 also includes five successive away victories in domestic action – during which time they have shipped just two goals while scoring nine themselves – but not since November 2020 have they managed to keep a Champions League clean sheet on the road.
The English capital is not kind to BVB either, as they have lost their last five European battles in London since beating Arsenal 2-1 in 2013, but the last time that they won both legs of a Champions League knockout tie in 1996-97, Dortmund ended up lifting the trophy aloft.
The Stamford Bridge doctors are still working overtime on a number of players, with N’Golo Kante, Armando Broja, Edouard Mendy, Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva all expected to miss out, but Christian Pulisic will be in the squad and Reece James could yet be passed fit.
Mason Mount, who missed the win over Leeds with an abdominal problem, will sit on the naughty step for the second leg – having incurred a one-game European ban for yellow card accumulation – and Potter may see no need to stray from the 3-4-3 setup from the weekend’s success, but Trevoh Chalobah would be required to step in for the ineligible Benoit Badiashile in that case.
James’s expected return from hamstring tightness should see Ruben Loftus-Cheek drop down to the bench, and Potter will likely continue to keep faith with the misfiring Kai Havertz, whose deputy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang memorably did not make the squad for the knockout stages.
Dortmund boss Edin Terzic also has a suspended player in his ranks in the form of right-back Julian Ryerson, but Marius Wolf was always going to get the nod here, and since scoring the winner in the first leg, Adeyemi has sustained a thigh injury and will play no part in Tuesday’s game.
Adeyemi’s fellow attacking protege Youssoufa Moukoko is also out of contention alongside Mateu Morey, Abdoulaye Kamara and Julien Duranville, and a question mark is hanging over the head of first-choice goalkeeper Kobel, who had to drop out of the first XI against Leipzig due to a thigh complaint.
A comeback on Tuesday for Kobel has not been ruled out, but Alexander Meyer should still deputise in goal, while testicular cancer survivor Sebastien Haller should fend off the recently-recovered Donyell Malen to operate at the tip of the attack for Terzic’s men
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Kepa; Chalobah, Koulibaly, Fofana; James, Kovacic, Fernandez, Chilwell; Sterling, Havertz, Felix
Borussia Dortmund possible starting lineup:
Meyer; Wolf, Sule, Schlotterbeck, Guerreiro ; Ozcan, Can, Bellingham; Brandt, Haller, Reus