By William Schomberg
LONDON (Reuters) – Chelsea boss Graham Potter looked like the most relieved man in London as he punched the air and blew kisses into the crowd after his struggling side’s 2-1 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.
Chelsea fans, many of whom had booed Potter loudly when defeat followed defeat in recent weeks, cheered the team off the pitch after a goal by Raheem Sterling and a re-taken penalty by Kai Havertz earned the Blues a 2-0 win on the night.
That turned a 1-0 deficit in the first leg in Germany into a ticket for the quarter finals and kicked off celebrations that harked back to some of Chelsea’s great nights in Europe’s top competition over the past 20 years.
For Potter, the victory was personal too.
“Inevitably in life, you are going to have bad times and you’re going to have good times,” Potter told reporters when asked about how he felt after shouldering much of the blame for Chelsea’s bleak run of form that began as far back as October.
“Things are never bad forever, thankfully. But it felt like that sometimes,” he said.
Potter confirmed he had a quick post-match meeting with Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly who had been all smiles in the stands, wrapped in a blue and white scarf.
“I’m still here,” Potter said about the outcome of the meeting, shrugging off with a laugh the speculation that his job was on the line depending on the result of Tuesday’s match.
It was the biggest win yet for Chelsea’s new owners who paid 4.25 billion pounds ($5.03 billion) last year for the 2021 European champions.
Since then, the consortium has invested more than 500 million pounds in new players, continuing the kind of lavish spending seen under the former owner of Stamford Bridge, Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, who was forced to relinquish the club after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
Until Tuesday’s win, Boehly and the rest of the consortium had seen little return on their investment.
Chelsea have slumped to 10th place in the English Premier League, with their chances of reaching next season’s Champions League via a top-four finish all but gone, and the team were eliminated early in both of England’s knockout cup competitions.
The Blues struggled even to score during a miserable run of two wins in 15 games that was only ended last Saturday with a close-run 1-0 victory over struggling Leeds United.
Potter, who had to fill the big shoes of Champions League winner Thomas Tuchel when the German was fired last September, again told reporters after Tuesday’s win that his job had been made harder by a long list of injuries in late 2022.
But the former Brighton & Hove Albion coach went out of his way to praise Chelsea fans, saying he understood their frustrations and appreciated the atmosphere they created in Stamford Bridge against Dortmund.
“Big thanks to the supporters. They were amazing tonight, they helped us on Saturday and they helped us this evening,” Potter said. “So it’s brilliant for everyone connected with the club.”
($1 = 0.8455 pounds)
(Editing by Toby Davis)