05 March 2023

Raheem Sterling can inspire Champions League comeback, says Graham Potter

05 March 2023

Raheem Sterling’s Champions League experience can be the difference for Chelsea when they face Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday, according to Graham Potter.

The Bundesliga side lead 1-0 from the first leg in Germany, a match in which Potter’s side dominated but failed to make the most of a host of chances.

The England midfielder missed the game at Signal Iduna Park but has made a noticeable difference to Chelsea’s attack since returning from knee and hamstring injuries that forced him to miss most of January and February.

The Blues beat Leeds 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, their first victory since January 15, with Sterling’s direct running and deliveries from the left wing a key factor in transforming their forward play following defeats to Tottenham and Southampton.

Potter joked that the 28-year-old is an “experienced Chelsea campaigner”, despite only joining last summer from Manchester City, after he led the way for the club’s January recruits during Saturday’s win.

“You can see his quality that he brings,” said Potter. “He’s enjoying his football. He’s a really important player for us. I think the last two home games you could see that, see what he brings.

“He attacks the back line well. He’s still building up because of the hamstring problem he had. He’s getting stronger and stronger every minute. I thought he contributed really well, especially in the first half.

“His goalscoring record in the Champions League speaks for itself. He’s a proven campaigner in that competition. We’re delighted with that, we’re looking forward to him on the pitch on Tuesday, hopefully enjoying his football.”

Potter could continue with a back three against Dortmund after the system was deployed successfully against Leeds, with Ben Chilwell especially impressive at left wing-back.

That would leave the manager with a central-defensive problem, with Thiago Silva out for around six weeks and Benoit Badiashile ineligible for the Champions League, although Reece James is likely to be available to play on the right after missing Saturday’s game with a tight hamstring.

“Ben and Reece have been unavailable for a long time,” said Potter. “We’ve had to find different solutions. Clearly wing-back is a role that they’re comfortable in, it brings out their quality. It’s something for us to go forward with.”

Strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and David Fofana are two more players omitted from the European squad, meaning the manager will almost certainly turn once again to Kai Havertz as his makeshift number nine.

Havertz has scored only two goals since returning from the World Cup and was frustrated by Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier when he went through one-on-one in the first half during Saturday’s win.

“We have to attack better as a team,” Potter added. “That’s my responsibility. It’s too easy to zoom in to individuals and blame them. It’s a collective, we have to create more, do better, and that starts with me.

“Helping the team get better chances, more chances. I don’t doubt the quality of the players.”

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