Graham Potter has four Chelsea undroppables with Reece James adjustment to beat Borussia Dortmund


Chelsea have saved themselves for the Champions League in the past few seasons. It has come as something of a U-turn from their massive struggles in the competition from 2012 onwards. In fact, between winning the competition for the first time and their 2021 last-16 knockout tie with Atletico Madrid, they only progressed past the first knockout round once in that period despite winning the league twice.

European football was the club's kryptonite. Recent seasons have seen a swing in the tide though. The unlikely 2021 winners conceded just one goal between last-16 and lifting the trophy, winning all but one of their games in that period - only falling foul to a late Mehdi Taremi bicycle kick consolation in the quarter-finals.

Their best performance last season was arguably the away leg against Real Madrid, a match that came against the odds in the Santiago Bernabeu. It is with this in mind that Chelsea fans are once again willing their team on to turn around a first leg deficit in order to progress. The 1-0 defeat in Germany against Borussia Dortmund was an entertaining game but did little to ease the tensions around Graham Potter and his future. Since then the Blues lost two more games without scoring before finally halting the run somewhat against Leeds on Saturday.

The easiest and quickest way to win over the fans is with a European run though and it's not an exaggeration to say that Tuesday night is effectively the season for the Blues. Win and it continues, lose or fail to progress and there's not much to play for. With that in mind, here's how Potter can give himself the best chance at getting the desired outcome.

Risk Reece

Everything Potter said ahead of the weekend's clash with Leeds indicated Reece James would be returning for Champions League action. "Reece just felt a little bit of tightness, which is sometimes understandable when he’s coming back from an injury," he said. "We’ve been assessing this week; we feel it’s too soon for the game on Saturday, but there’s a strong chance he’ll be available for Tuesday."

Even if James isn't fully fit it would be a missed chance not to make use of him in this game. Chelsea's chances of winning are much higher when James - arguably their best player - is on the pitch. Resting him out of precaution for Leeds makes sense with a big game on the horizon. If Chelsea were to bow out and James not to play it would feel like a safe option. Although there is the pressure of potential surgery should he be injured again there would be time to recover and to have that happen through the rest of the season, given that being out of Europe would, as mentioned, all but end the campaign on a competitive note.

Stick with the shape

It was a Thomas Tuchel performance from Potter. The back three returned, the game was won by a defender after attacking shortcomings and the result was prettier than the action itself. This is what fans have been calling for. The results ultimately define a manager's reign, especially at the start, and with the return of James and Chilwell to fitness it only makes sense to get the best out of them. Chilwell was excellent against Leeds and demonstrated exactly why he has been such a miss when injured, Ruben Loftus-Cheek filled in on the right and offers physical presence and technical skill but not the same understanding of the role as James.

The balance wasn't quite there but the threat always was with Chilwell making constant runs in behind. Leeds left space to run into for Chelsea but it wasn't always exploited. Having James in the mix as well to offer more options in behind creates more complications for a Dortmund defence that doesn't have to be as gung-ho as in Germany.

Working on the defence

With the back three comes the only true point of uncertainty. It was Wesley Fofana, Kalidou Koulibaly and Benoit Badiashile that lined up on Saturday but the latter is unavailable here due to being left out of the Champions League squad. It already looks like a call Potter might regret. Badiashile has been impressive in his matches so far and at 21 looks set to be the future of the Blues defence with Fofana. The issue is that none of the replacement choices are as natural on the left as he is. In a back three Fofana would naturally play on the right but have to cover on the left here.

Koulibaly, often used on the left, is the likely pick for the centre due to his lack of pace, but has also played on the left. It could see some rejigging which would upset a trio that just kept a clean sheet. The big decision is who plays in the third spot.

Trevoh Chalobah was used as a late substitute but at wingback, he has hardly featured since the World Cup. Cesar Azpilicueta is recovering from a concussion and may not be match-fit, plus his pace would be cause for concern against the counter-attacking pace of Dortmund.

The final option would be James in at centre-back, as Tuchel used several times last season, with Loftus-Cheek out wide, but this negates the 23-year-old's attacking threat. The rest of the team looks to pick itself, getting these spots right and in the correct shape may well go some way to deciding the match and the tie.

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