Chelsea 1-1 RB Salzburg: Blues stay BOTTOM of Champions League group after Okafor’s late equaliser

A new era, but familiar problems remain. Chelsea dominated, failed to pull clear, conceded, drew. Obviously, it could have been worse. Yet Graham Potter, attending his first Champions League game whether as participant or spectator, would have hoped for more.

There were 15 minutes remaining when Salzburg, who had been second best much of the game, caused Stamford Bridge to fall silent for the second time in the night. An impressive exchange of passes, from the back and through the midfield, ended with substitute Junior Adamu sprinting down the right flank. His low cross was met by Swiss international Noah Okafar, who lost Thiago Silva, and turned the ball smartly past goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. First time, too, Potter will have noticed. How Chelsea could have done with a similar sense of determination when the target loomed.

It wasn’t like they weren’t warned, either. And not only by the many matches that have unfolded like this dating back several years. Even on the night, the signs were there. Just two minutes earlier, Okafor had forced a fine save from Arrizabalaga with a flicked header, at a time in the game when many had decided one would be enough for Chelsea. One isn’t enough, these days. Earlier this week, Potter admitted he had never attended a match in this competition, let alone been involved in one, and now he knows how hard it is, even against those teams the Super League snobs would class as fodder.

Graham Potter would have hoped for more after his first game in charge of Chelsea ended in a 1-1 draw against RB Salzburg

Graham Potter would have hoped for more after his first game in charge of Chelsea ended in a 1-1 draw against RB Salzburg

The Blues remain bottom of Group E following defeat in Zagreb last week, and they face 1st place AC Milan next

The Blues remain bottom of Group E following defeat in Zagreb last week, and they face 1st place AC Milan next

Raheem Sterling opened the scoring early in the second half for the hosts after they lacked cutting edge in the first half

Raheem Sterling opened the scoring early in the second half for the hosts after they lacked cutting edge in the first half

But Noah Okafor managed to take advantage of some poor Chelsea defending to equalise with 15 minutes remaining

But Noah Okafor managed to take advantage of some poor Chelsea defending to equalise with 15 minutes remaining

MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS

CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Arrizabalaga 7; James 7, Azpilicueta 6.5 (Ziyech 82min), Silva 6.5, Cucurella 7; Kovacic 6.5 (Gallagher 81), Jorginho 7; Mount 7, Havertz 6.5 (Loftus-Cheek 66, 6.5), Sterling 7.5 (Pulisic 84); Aubameyang 6 (Broja 66, 6.5).

Scorer: Sterling 48. 

Booked: James.

Manager: Graham Potter 7.5.

SALZBURG (4-3-1-2): Kohn 7.5; Dedic 7.5, Bernardo 8, Pavlovic 8, Ulmer 6; Capaldo 6, Seiwald 6, Kjaergaard 6 (Gourna-Douath 46, 6); Sucic 6 (Kameri 70, 5.5); Sesko 6.5 (Adamu 70, 6), Okafor 5.5 (Koita 85).

Scorer: Okafor 75.

Booked: Adamu, Pavlovic, Ulmer, Capaldo.

Manager: Matthias Jaissle 6.

Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (Slovakia) 7.5.

Attendance: 38,818.

 

Potter is, incredibly, only the eighth English manager to lead a team into a Champions League tie and just two of that number won their first game. True, victory hardly proved a lasting omen of good fortune for Craig Shakespeare at Leicester, or Michael Carrick at Manchester United, but Potter still wouldn’t have minded being in that company. His new employer seems a little, well, antsy.

So what did we learn? Well, he’s all about encouragement, Potter. When Arrizabalaga came haring off his line to head a long Salzburg through ball to safety, when Chelsea got down the flanks, even if the final pass came to nothing, he raised his arms over his head and clapped heartily, noticeably. Clapped so he made sure the players knew that was what he wanted – bold play, bold decision-making. And Chelsea had the snap of players trying to impress. Flying into tackles, jumping like stags, powerful high energy. It’s all part of the new manager bounce – although opinion differs on whether Chelsea needed one. 

The boss certainly looked the part, too. Immaculate in black suit and black tie. The minute of silence for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was note perfect as well. Not a murmur, beside the voice of an Austrian radio commentator, who mistakenly believed the ongoing reflection required explanation. He was swiftly hushed – by stewards, and members of the Chelsea bench.

And what did Potter’s Chelsea look like? Some will say it plays a back three. No it doesn’t. It’s not as clearly defined as that tag suggests. If Raheem Sterling was left wing-back he was the highest wing-back in the history of the game. His average position on the field was inside Salzburg’s half. He didn’t track into the corner, never appeared on the flank deeper than 30 yards from his goal. You cannot be a wing-back – which is half a defensive role – operating from there. Sterling was deployed to support the forwards not aid the defence, barely entering his own half. 

Reece James, on the other flank took more defensive duties with Mason Mount kept close. When Chelsea built from the back, Cesar Azpilicueta pushed wide from his central starting position to receive the ball. At best it was a four, three hybrid. What was most noticeable was who didn’t play.

No place in the starting line-up for Wesley Fofana or Kalidou Koulibaly. So that’s approximately £140m of newly-acquired central defence on the fringes. Still, fair play to Potter for that. He’s at his strongest now, as the new man going forward. Not much point picking the owner’s team and wondering what his own might have achieved, although he could have done with it keeping a clean sheet or Silva being better for the goal. Until that point, his defence had looked solid enough. 

Stamford Bridge observed an impeccable minute of silence following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday last week

Stamford Bridge observed an impeccable minute of silence following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday last week

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a chance within five minutes but his attempted lob over Philipp Kohn was off target

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a chance within five minutes but his attempted lob over Philipp Kohn was off target

Salzburg chances were few and Arrizabalaga had one real save to make in the first-half when a shot by Benjamin Sesko curled towards the far post and he did well to get down. Sesko, a giant Slovenian, has been compared to Erling Haaland, but the jury is out. No coach would have been leaving Haaland out of the starting line-up for a match like this in his Borussia Dortmund days and Sesko only got the call when striker Fernando was injured in the warm-up. 

Salzburg’s only other chance of that half came when Arrizabalaga played a foolish ball, hard and fast at Jorginho on the edge of the area, and he failed to get it under control. Fortunately for Chelsea, their opponents were over-eager in hustling and a foul was committed. That could have been calamitous.

At the other end, same old, same old. Lots of the ball, lots of lovely football, but problems finishing. Sterling, in particular, seemed shot shy from excellent positions. He was often in and around Salzburg’s six-yard box – so rather high for a wing-back – and one wonders what might have happened had the ball fell to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang instead. On a number of occasions, it was crying out for a first time shot. Sterling took a touch, and was then blocked off.

Ben Chilwell may also be concerned for his Chelsea future with Potter now reunited with Marc Cucarella, who was preferred at left back. It was his corner that served up Chelsea’s first chance after 13 minutes, met by Kai Havertz whose header was cut off on its way to goal.

He then failed to connect with a first-time volley following a long ball from Mason Mount as Chelsea pushed for an opener

He then failed to connect with a first-time volley following a long ball from Mason Mount as Chelsea pushed for an opener

But Sterling finally broke the deadlock and scored the first goal of the Potter era with a delightful curling effort into the corner

But Sterling finally broke the deadlock and scored the first goal of the Potter era with a delightful curling effort into the corner

Cucarella was provider again in the 39th minute, this time with a cutback pass after Sterling had a shot deflected. Cucarella found Mount but his shot, hit with lovely cross-spin, curled just wide of the far post. In between, Reece James hit a cross deep which eluded everybody but fell to Sterling wide on the left. He had good sight of goal but delayed pulling the trigger and a defender got in the way. Thankfully, for Potter and Chelsea, he didn’t make that mistake the next time.

Just three minutes after the restart, Chelsea got the break their pressure deserved. James put Mount away on the right and Salzburg’s defence failed to deal with his low cross. So did Aubameyang, whose footwork fortuitously – or brilliantly, take your pick on intent – let Sterling receive the ball in significant space on the left. This time he made no mistake, firing past Salzburg goalkeeper Philip Kohn.  

The Potter era was underway. But its narrative had too many echoes of the past, as James, Hakim Ziyech and Armando Broja all squandered chances to win the game late. It’s fair to say if Chelsea’s current group of players formed the managerial firing squad, Claudio Ranieri would still be in charge at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues could not hold on as Okafor finished a Junior Adamu cross following a slight deflection off Cesar Azpilicueta

The Blues could not hold on as Okafor finished a Junior Adamu cross following a slight deflection off Cesar Azpilicueta

The Blues had chances late on through substitutes Armando Broja and Hakim Ziyech but neither could beat the goalkeeper

The Blues had chances late on through substitutes Armando Broja and Hakim Ziyech but neither could beat the goalkeeper

Thiago Silva failed to clear the ball out for a throw in in the lead up to the Salzburg equaliser and looked dejected at full time

Thiago Silva failed to clear the ball out for a throw in in the lead up to the Salzburg equaliser and looked dejected at full time

Re-live Sportsmail‘s coverage of Chelsea’s draw with RB Salzburg from KISHAN VAGHELA below.

 

 

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