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Graham Potter left frustrated in Chelsea’s first game after Salzburg draw | Champions League


After everything that happened over the past week, all the upheaval caused by the sacking of Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea needed something here. Graham Potter needed something here. It was the new manager’s first experience of a Champions League draw, a detail to underline his sudden rise. It would be a crazy night for him.

For most of the second half, it felt like Raheem Sterling had kicked off Potter’s tenure. With a roll of his studs to place the ball and a rustle of his right boot, the winger found the far corner of the Red Bull Salzburg net and Chelsea could feel a similar ignition point for their League campaign champions – after the trauma of defeat. at Dinamo Zagreb.

Salzburg had other ideas. As Potter directed his players into new forms, it was a battle for cohesion and the sucker was coming. Thiago Silva had been a case study in how to defend, a model of composure, receiving praise from home support. Then he was wrong.

The ball was his to win on the left side of the Chelsea defence, but he missed his challenge on substitute Junior Adamu and Salzburg were in. Adamu crossed low, Noah Okafor made his move and his shot was deflected on César Azpilicueta. . Chelsea tried to rally but their late push came to nothing. For Potter, there was only frustration.

It was impossible to escape the cozy atmosphere that accompanied the spectacle of the kick-off countdown; the slow, mournful music, the union jacks hanging behind one of the goals. “RIP Your Majesty,” reads a banner.

It was two Chelsea pensioners who came out of the tunnel first to lay wreaths and there were loud renditions of God Save The Queen from both sides – in the absence of UEFA allowing the national anthem to play. be played on the sound system.

A banner displays a tribute to the Queen at Stamford Bridge.
A banner displays a tribute to the Queen at Stamford Bridge. Photography: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Potter’s entrance was the definition of discreet – out of necessity. Dressed in a black suit and tie, he dived left into his technical area, where he briefly cheered from all four corners of the stadium. The response was decent.

Potter’s first line-up at Chelsea included three full-backs – César Azpilicueta was alongside Thiago Silva – and centre-halves, Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly, brought in over the summer at a combined cost of £108.8million. pounds, on the bench. Ben Chilwell joined them there.

What was noticeable early on was how high full-back Reece James was playing on the right, which allowed Mason Mount to get in front of him and Kai Havertz out of the No. 10. The system was smooth. Potter wants certainty on the ball, the confidence to play in difficult situations, but Kepa Arrizabalaga almost unsettled his team with a heavy pass to Jorginho on the edge of the box. Benjamin Sesko jumped in to collect the ball and Salzburg looked like they were in. Sesko, however, was penalized for a light foul.

The action meandered in the first half, with Salzburg leading the physical fight, notably through Sesko and Strahinja Pavlovic, towering figures up front and at the back. He had time for home support to greet Potter’s predecessor Tuchel in the 21st minute. He had won Chelsea’s second Champions League title in 2021. They no longer have the Super Tommy Tuchel but he will always have a place in their affections. Potter must earn it.

What would have been a surprise on the pitch here? Nothing, frankly. Not with Chelsea’s history and not given the events of around last week when the club’s new owners sacked a Champions League-winning manager after three defeats this season and took a calculated risk on a newcomer to management at this level.

Chelsea worked to join the points before the interval, to create a lot of clear note. Too often, from Chelsea’s perspective, the final action has gone wrong or Salzburg have been hampered by a body. James pulled away from Pavlovic but his cross was too far past Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Raheem Sterling got a beating from his man on the other end but his deliveries couldn’t find their target.

Chelsea’s best opening in the first half had gone to Mason Mount; he moved away from the edge of the area while Arrizabalaga had to be vigilant to keep a curler away from Sesko.

Potter pinned Sterling high and wide down the left and the attempt to categorize the formation was heavy-handed. It looked more like a 3-5-2 in the second half, with Marc Cucurella on the left of defense and Mateo Kovacic as one of the No.8s. Havertz was left to sniff out the spaces around Aubameyang, who was at one meter from the rhythm.

When the breakthrough came it was all about James’ driving – a theme of the evening – and Mount’s search cross from the right. But Salzburg won’t relish replays, especially centre-half, Bernardo, who missed his kick and let the ball pass for Sterling.

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