CHampions League: Chelsea and Salzburg draw 1-1 at Stamford Bridge in their first game under Graham Potter

The new Chelsea manager had nothing up his sleeve to break the deadlock between the Blues and RB Salzburg at Stamford Bridge last night.

Graham Potter’s first game as Chelsea head coach ended in frustration and dropped Champions League points here at Stamford Bridge last night (Wednesday). They showed signs of assimilating the demands of “Potterball”, playing from behind, taking risks and showing adventures, but individual mistakes cost them.

Raheem Sterling and Reece James have done well, the former scoring his 25th Champions League goal, but Potter needs to find a quick answer to Chelsea’s problems as a centre-forward. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was poor, rusty and perhaps still reeling from that broken jaw, while Kai Havertz is lost and Armando Broja is still developing. Potter also had to acknowledge the quality of RB Salzburg’s bench coach Matthias Jaissle and the dedication of the visitors.

Potter has always wanted to live his professional life outside of his ‘comfort zone’ and he certainly did when he joined Chelsea. He knows the expectations here. There was even a grumbling or two as Chelsea went 0-0 at the break, although sentiment improved immediately when Sterling scored within three minutes of the restart. Potter had simply and calmly repeated his requirements during the break and Chelsea answered.

Potter knew he had to impose his own approach quickly and do things his way. So he relinquished £103m new centre-back talent for 37-year-old Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta, 33, with Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana and Wesley Fofana. He obviously wanted more ballplay from behind and Silva was soon delivering a 60-yard cross Field pass to James, Chelsea right-back.

With Potter cheering them on, Chelsea kept rushing forward, particularly through left-sided Marc Cucurella, who grew into a £55m player at Brighton & Hove Albion under Potter.

Acting effectively as the left of the three centre-backs, Cucurella impressed early in the air by passing the taller Benjamin Sesko and attempted to connect with Sterling by working overtime at full-back.

Cucurella embodied this new, more intense style, throwing quick throws at Sterling and then Aubameyang, pushing Chelsea forward. Cucurella even lectured Slovakia’s fourth official Peter Kruzliak when Salzburg briefly returned the ball from a Chelsea free-kick. He wanted to get on with the game, with the execution of Potter’s game plan. At every hint of adventure, even when it was fading, Potter gave his trademark hands-up applause. No fear was shown, certainly not on the scale of the highly expressive head coach he replaced, Thomas Tuchel.

Kepa Arrizabalaga started in goal for Potter, Edouard Mendy had a patellar tendon problem and was soon pressuring Jorginho with a ball at the midfielder’s feet. James then dropped low, collecting a pass from Azpilicueta, dribbles inside and rides tackles. From goalie to full-back, this was Potterball, risk-taking, attacking, creating chances.

This was another football event where it was impossible to escape from seismic events elsewhere, and neither did the Stamford Bridge crowd. That evening, Chelsea said an emotional goodbye to the Queen. After all the historic scenes in central London throughout the day, the tributes continued three miles west, with giant portraits of the late monarch dominating the megastore behind the shed, while 20 Union Jacks were displayed alongside a banner reading ‘RIP Your Majesty “.

Chelsea fans applauded their Salzburg counterparts, who emerged from Earls Court tube station in respectful silence, then held up a banner that read ‘In memory of Queen Elizabeth II.’ After two Chelsea pensioners laid wreaths on the pitch, Stamford Bridge collapsed into God Save the Queen, observed an impeccable minute’s silence, then the noise returned as if a switch had been flipped and Chelsea set about making a good organized, spirited Salzburgers who had won seven of their last eight games.

Jaissle’s side threatened on the break and Arrizabalaga had to sprint out to defeat Noah Okafor, the keeper then deftly dropping to his right to block Sesko’s shot. This situation arose because Sterling overdid it, was expropriated and Salzburg went bankrupt. But Potter Ball encourages such gambling. No risk no reward.

After losing to Dinamo Zagreb and then playing home and away at AC Milan, Chelsea were eagerly chasing points for Group E. Havertz was behind Aubameyang, with Mount and Mateo Kovacic huddled on either side of anchor Jorginho. But Chelsea impressed the most. Cucurella, in turn, sent Sterling left onto the overlap and his cross fell on Mason Mount. He snapped his shot, which flew harmlessly into the shed. Potter responded with even more applause. When the clock struck 21, Chelsea fans staged their gratitude to Potter’s predecessor, who gave them the Champions League at 21. They sang, “We’ve got Tommy Tuchel.” Well, not anymore, but Tuchel deserves to be fondly remembered. His players clearly reacted to the new man.

Within three minutes of the second half Chelsea broke through and if Potter is touted as England’s future manager it was a goal scored and ended by England’s presence. James started the move, accelerating away from Andreas Ulmer in his own half before sending the ball past Nicolas Seiwald to Mount on the right. Mount’s Cross flew through the Salzburger Land at high speed and really should have been cut out by Bernardo, but it continued to Sterling. Standing free, he enjoyed ample time touching the ball with his right foot, pushing it forward, then powerfully putting his right foot on the ball this time and sending it over Philipp Kohn and into the goal.

On 65 minutes, Potter again demonstrated his crucial side, removing underperforming Aubameyang and Havertz for Broja and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. But when Salzburg equalized, he was reminded of the challenges and the work on the defensive. Sterling failed to get a pass in midfield, Silva jumped in front of Junior Adamu’s feet and lost possession of the ball and gave Salzburg a second to cross. Azpilicueta failed to respond to Noah Okafor’s run, who passed the Chelsea captain to place his shot past Kepa.

Chelsea almost regained the lead when Strahinja Pavlovic fouled Loftus-Cheek just outside the box. Cucurella stroked the ball back to James, who shot over the goal. Potter kept making changes, withdrawing Azpilicueta, Sterling and Kovacic and sending in Hakim Ziyech at full-back, with James now at right centre-back, Christian Pulisic at left-back and Conor Gallagher trying to inject energy into midfield.

Chelsea pushed hard in stoppage time. Broja shot wide and Ziyech sent a half-volley straight at Kohn, but there was a brief barrage of boos after the final whistle.

-The times

Originally published as Chelsea v Red Bull Salzburg: New tricks but known mistakes for Graham Potter’s Chelsea CHampions League: Chelsea and Salzburg draw 1-1 at Stamford Bridge in their first game under Graham Potter

Nate Jones

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