Email! “Chelsea couldn’t beat West Ham!” says Jeff Sax. “What can they possibly do against Dortmund?”
Yes, but today is another day and sport, football in particular, doesn’t work like that. Chelsea will have more space tonight, their players might play better, Dortmund might have an off-night; all sorts of things can happen and that’s why we love it.
Ach, something I meant to note about that Chelsea XI: Mason Mount isn’t in it, again, and Joao Felix, who might be off in May, is. When Thomas Tuchel arrived at the Bridge, he left Mount out of his first team, then never did so again, whereas it seems like Potter doesn’t really fancy him – and there’s a contract situation brewing. I see both sides: Mount is Chelsea and has proved himself dependable in big games, but on the other, over the course of the season, his numbers probably aren’t good enough for the role he plays. I’d not be surprised if he left in the summer, because I can’t see him sitting on the bench regularly.
Apparently there’s another game going on tonight and one that, perhaps, might decide the destination of this seasons’s Premier League title. I know it’s only February, and that we’ve played fewer games than usual, but if Arsenal win tonight and win their game in hand they’d be nine points ahead, a huge deficit, whereas if City win, the pressure might tell. Anyhow, Scott Murray has all the goings-on.
As for Chelsea, Benoit Badiashile isn’t on the Champions League list – he’s replaced by Kalidou Koulibaly – while Noni Madueke is left out entirely. I’m a little surprised Hakim Ziyech starts, but I guess Potter wants his composure, ball-retention and set-piece delivery. Meantime, Ben Chilwell replaces Marc Cucurella – if he can stay fit, I’d expect him to stay in – and Ruben Loftus-Cheek continues next to Enzo Fernandez.
Dortmund deploy the 4-2-3-1 they used to win at Bochum the week before last, but there are still some surprises in selection, Mats Hummels, our favourite plural, missing out, and Marco Reus too. My guess that that Terzic wants pace on the pitch, because he also also prefers Karim Adeyemi, who’s not played for 10 days, to Gio Reyna. Jude Bellingham wears the armband.
Ah, first of all, here’s Graham Potter. He says he thought his team attacked well early doors at West Ham, but tonight is completely different and his team are looking forward to it. They feel lucky to be in this position and are excited to take it on – they need to block out external stuff, be present, and stick to the moments; the crowd will be a factor because it’s a Champions League night, and Chelsea need to embrace the pressure “because that’s when the good stuff happens”.
Alreet, I’m going to write these down, then we’ll have a chat about what they mean.
Borussia Dortmund (4-1-4-1): Kobel; Wolf, Süle, Schlotterbeck, Guerreiro; Emre Can; Brandt, Bellingham, Özcan, Adeyemi; Haller. Subs: Reyna, Dahoud, Reus, Hummels, Modeste, Malen, Meunier, Ryerson, Meyer, Rothe, Bynoe-Gittens, Coulibaly.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Kepa; James, Thiago Silva, Koulibaly, Chilwell; Enzo Fernández, Loftus-Cheek; Ziyech, João Félix, Mudryk; Havertz. Subs: Kovacic, Bettinelli, Chalobah, Mount, Zakaria, Gallagher, Azpilicueta, Chukwuemeka, Cucurella, Fofana, Bergström, Hall.
Tenth in the league with 23 goals scored in 22 games, out of the FA Cup, and with just three wins in their last 15 – against Dinamo Zagreb, Bournemouth and Palace – a run that includes eight defeats. Chelsea are rubbish, right?
Er, not quite. Well, OK, quite – but there’s more to it than that. Graham Potter inherited an unbalanced squad missing the masking agent that is N’Golo Kanté and the everything that is Reece James, then spent a fair bit of time compounding that by acquiring a multitude of players, in vulgar style and with little apparent plan.
However, various of those new arrivals are excellent. Enzo Fernández has settled in immediately, João Félix looks there too and Mykhailo Mudryk has a lot of talent – plus James is fit again.
In any event, Potter is a systems coach so needs time to get his players, lots of whom are inexperienced, doing what he wants – yes, all the more so now he’s 690,721 new ones to assimilate – and finally, we’re starting to see signs. Though Chelsea didn’t beat West Ham last weekend, they created enough chances to win three games and, even if the lack of a finisher costs them in the short-term, once they’ve added one they’ll be a very serious problem.
Whether they’re ready to beat Dortmund – who’ve been going through their own process – is another matter. After an abject start to the season, they’re improving quickly now they know what Edin Terzic wants from them, and though Youssoufa Moukoko is injured, Jude Bellingham, Julian Brandt and Gio Reyna have plenty. And that’s before we consider Jamie Bynoe-Gittens – 18, English, and once of Chelsea – who scored at the weekend.
All of which is to say that, when the draw was made, this looked one of its less intriguing ties, but now it’s arrived it is fascinating.
Kick-off: 9pm local, 8pm GMT