February 7, 2023

RED BULL SALZBURG 1-2 CHELSEA: Graham Potter’s Blues turned in an impressive display in Austria as they secured their place in the next round of the Champions League

Chelsea secured their spot in the last-16 of the Champions League as they edged past Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg.

Mateo Kovacic opened the scoring for the Blues mid-way through the first-half with a stunning first-time effort. A couple of sumptuous moves could have seen the Londoners double their lead but they could not find another route past Salzburg keeper Philipp Köhn.

That goalkeeping stubborness was just the tonic that Salzburg needed as just a few minutes into the second-half, they equalised against the run of play through Junio Adamu.

Kai Havertz thundered home a stunning second for the Blues midway through the second half as the visitors reclaimed the lead and booked their spot in the next round.

Here are the main talking points from what turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining affair in Austria…
Kovacic repays Potter’s faith with stunner

Introduced in the draw with Manchester United, it was certainly no surprise to see the Kovacic return to the Chelsea starting XI in Austria. It was a decision that once again handed the Blues near-instant dividends.

The former Real Madrid and Inter Milan schemer was on hand to score the opener with a stunning left-footed effort that was always curling away from the goalkeeper to find the top corner.

Away from the strike, Kovacic remained as an ever-available, metronomic presence in the heart of the Blues’ midfield.

Should Potter not yet realise it but the midfielder is certainly stamping a claim for a more regular starting berth should he continue his excellent form.

Potter-ball clicks into gear

Whilst the Blues only had Kovacic’s strike to show for their first-half efforts, many will argue that they should have been much further ahead.

On numerous occasions, Potter’s men sliced through their hosts with eye-catching team moves that involved stunning first-touch exchanges between the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kovacic, Conor Gallagher, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kai Havertz.

One move in particular was thoroughly exhilarating as the ball progressed from Kepa, all the way through the team to Aubameyang but unfortunately he could not score.

Chelsea have on occasion in the past been accused of not having the most exciting style of play but that can certainly not be said of the current side.

It finally appears as though Potter has had his influence on the squad and but for Salzburg stopper Kohn, they would have had what would have been a surely insurmountable advantage after the first 45 minutes.

Salzburg respond in kind

Chelsea certainly caught the eye in Austria but the hosts ensured that the game did not go all of the Blues’ way, with their equaliser as stunning as the Blues’ play throughout the first-half.

Immediately after a handball shout that was turned down, Matthias Jaissle’s men staged some brilliant build-up play of their own.

Noah Okafor combined with Maximilian Wöber before the latter’s inch-perfect cross picked out Adamu, who expertly guided his effort home – his tenth goal in just his 19th appearance of the season.

It is certainly no surprise then that he is being touted as the ‘next Erling Haaland ‘, the Norwegian having forged his goalscoring name for the Austrain outfit.

Based on the goals alone and chances alone, the game was certainly one for the footballing purists.

Havertz ends barren run to finally beat Kohn

In honesty, Salzburg’s equaliser was somewhat against the run of play. Chelsea were utterly dominant throughout large swaths of the clash and but for Kohn and his six saves throughout the game, they could have racked up an emphatic scoreline.

As the game progressed, it appeared as though it was going to require another world-class goal or a mistake for Chelsea to edge ahead once more. Usefully, it was the former that proved to be decisive.

German international Kai Havertz picked up the ball on the edge if the Salzburg penalty area and smashed home a stunning effort that crashed in off of the crossbar and in turn ended his goalless run of Champions League away games.

Salzburg’s stunning home run over

On the topic of long runs being ended, it cannot be understated how much of a difficult task the Blues had on their hands in travelling to Austria.

The home side had racked up a stunning run of 40 matches undefeated at the Red Bull Arena and were aiming to extend that with what would have been an historic first-ever win against European opposition.

The fact that Chelsea have travelled there and dismissed their opponents with some style on what promised to be a testing evening indicates the maturity and tenacity that Potter has instilled within the current crop of players.

Rewind just six weeks and it looked highly likely that Chelsea’s place in the next round of the competition was under threat.

After all, the Blues had lost their opening match to Dinamo Zagreb before following that up with a drab draw against tonight’s opponents Salzburg at Stamford Bridge.

Three successive victories later, they are now assured of their place in the next round and look favourites to book top spot.

Huge credit certainly has to go to Potter for that and his players for stepping up under what could have been extremely uncomortable circustmances.

Should they win the group, they will of course be seeded in the round of 16 – something that the Chelsea boss will no doubt be aiming to secure next week in their final group game.

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