Will Graham Potter ‘win the f***ing Champions League’ *because* Chelsea have been a bit rubbish?
Chelsea’s draw in the Champions League could not have been tougher, but that’s good news for Graham Potter, who’s got a free hit at a club that thrives with its back against a wall in Europe.
‘If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,’ or words to that effect, will be the party line coming out of Chelsea after the Champions League draw.
It couldn’t have been harder. They face the reigning champions and record eight-time winners Real Madrid in the quarter-final, before either Manchester City or Bayern Munich – the two favourites to win the competition – in the semis.
It’s a nonsense phrase, of course. If Napoli reach the final they will have beaten Eintracht Frankfurt, AC Milan and the winner of Inter Milan v Benfica in the knockout rounds. They will not have ‘beaten the best’. But Chelsea have been up against it in both of their Champions League-winning seasons. This is how they like it.
Caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo led a bunch of over-the-hill legends in 2012 to miraculously see off Barcelona – one of the greatest football teams ever – in the semi-finals, before they got battered in the final by Bayern, only for Didier Drogba to Didier Drogba all over their asses.
Thomas Tuchel took charge mid-season ahead of Chelsea’s 2021 triumph, turning a leaky defence into the most stable outfit in Europe, winning as underdogs against Real Madrid in the semi-finals and Manchester City – who were 20-odd points clear of the Blues in the Premier League – in the final.
Chelsea thrive in the Champions League when given little hope, to such an extent that now, with people wise to this pattern of being good when least expected, Chelsea are being tipped to go deep by some because they’ve been a bit sh*t.
There’s some logic to it. Unlike Madrid, City and Bayern, who are all in close fights for their respective league titles, Chelsea have nothing else to play for. They’re out of the FA Cup and have very little hope of closing an 11-point gap to get into the top four. Graham Potter can use the Premier League games to try out tactics and play out scenarios ahead of Champions League clashes. An in-season pre-season, if you will.
Having been criticised for losing all too well and not shouting at referees, Potter has learnt that passion plays well among the Chelsea fans, whether it’s forced or not. And so, presumably with a nod to Kai Havertz’s post-match interview after his winning goal in the 2021 final, Potter did a swear at a fan forum this week. “We’ll try and win the f***ing Champions League,” he said, with the smile of a man set to receive a severe ticking off from his mother backstage.
He was deep in the doldrums a week or so ago, but things are looking pretty sweet for Potter now. The fact that he’s got Chelsea through to the quarter-finals will be enough to secure his job for the rest of the season, particularly given the impressive performance they put in to beat Borussia Dortmund. The pressure is off in the Premier League, where results don’t matter.
And despite this odd air of expectation because of a history of big results in the Champions League when Chelsea are hurting most, defeat to Real Madrid would hardly be a blot on Potter’s copybook, especially seeing as the European behemoths have just spanked Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool 6-2.
The odds are certainly stacked against Chelsea claiming a third Champions League trophy, and their chances would have been far greater had they been in the other half of the draw. But Potter will secretly be pleased.
Defeat to Benfica or either of the Milan teams would have been deemed failure, whereas wins over Madrid, City or Bayern will be enough to convince the fans of a Potter legacy at Stamford Bridge. Losing to any of those superior teams will do little to damage that possibility.