Potter takes Champions League risk
It would have been very easy for Graham Potter and his coaching team to take a no-risks approach to their opening game in charge, especially as Chelsea needed a victory to get off the mark in this season’s Champions League. Instead, the 47-year-old was bold with his team selection.
There was a back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva and Marc Cucurella and Reece James and Raheem Sterling with the supposed wing- backs. Only Sterling was never truly playing that role with the England international pushed high up the pitch alongside the likes of Kai Havertz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
In the opening period, it ensured Sterling had plenty of one-vs-one opportunities on the edge of the box. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make the most of them. Yet just three minutes into the second half, he collected Mason Mount’s cross and planted a wonderful shot into the far corner. It was a victory for Potter’s tactical approach.
Sadly, it didn’t result in Chelsea claiming a much- needed three points. The reason for that was individual errors in defence. Thiago Silva , otherwise utterly imperious, failed to intercept a pass forward and that allowed Junior Adamu to square for Noah Okafor, who had escaped the attention of Cesar Azpilicueta and guide a shot beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga.
The reaction inside Stamford Bridge was one of frustration, especially as Chelsea supporters felt Mateo Kovacic had been fouled in the build-up. That was the case on the touchline too, although not from the measured Potter. It meant that Ben Chilwell, who was among the substitutes, picked up the baton left by Thomas Tuchel and complained vociferously to the fourth official.
Chelsea had 15 minutes to find a winner and several opportunities came their way. Yet as has often proved the case over the past 12 months, they weren’t taken and that game ended all square – much to the disappointment of Silva, who after the full-time whistle was blown stood alone on the halfway and stared skywards. He knew his one mistake had proved costly. Potter wasn’t hard on his players after the draw.
“We’ve only got a point, and we’re disappointed with that, but I was very proud of how they acted today,” he said. “From an effort perspective, it was 100% there,” he said.
“[So was the] quality to get there often against a good opponent. We have to credit them for how they defended and how they created chances to attack us. “But we managed it quite well for the period of the game, and as I said, their goalkeeper has made some good saves, and we just lacked that little bit to get the second goal.
Momentous Milan matches required
The importance of the clash with Salzburg was somewhat overlooked in the build-up; a managerial change and a club co-owner publicly spitballing grand ideas for the future of the English game played their part in that. But Chelsea really needed a victory last night and that they didn’t get it has left them in a tough spot.
After two Champions League group-stage games, the Blues find themselves rather unexpectedly bottom of Group E. They are a point behind Salzburg, two off Dinamo Zagreb, and three behind Milan. And it’s the Serie A giants who Chelsea will be facing in back-to-back European matches in October.
Win both and Potter’s side will ensure they are in a strong position – qualification would almost certainly be in their hands. That is far easier said than done, however. And Chelsea’s new head coach appreciates the challenge that awaits his side after the international break.
“We can’t lie, it’s not the position we want to be in,” he said. “But we have to respond. It’s as simple as that. It’s going to be a tough group, I think, but there is enough quality in the team and squad that we can respond, and we have to look forward to those two games [against Milan].”
A timely break
With Chelsea’s game against Liverpool on Sunday now postponed – the Met Police were unable to provide sufficient cover given the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II takes place the following day – it gives Potter a little more time to work with his players prior to the international break. The majority of his group will then depart and only return in the days prior to the Blues’ trip to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace on October 1.
That game is almost two-and-a-half weeks away and that is perhaps no bad thing for Potter and his players after what has been a testing week. Tuchel’s sacking remains very raw for the fanbase; the German’s name was sung and there was a minute’s applause in his honour in the draw with Salzburg.
And there are players, notably Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech, who quickly drew the ire of those inside Stamford Bridge last night when poor crosses were delivered or loose passes were played. As the old saying goes: time is a healer. And the hope must be that come to the start of October, Chelsea supporters are more receptive to the new era and are ready to back those in blue to compete in the Premier League and Champions League in what is set to be a frantic month.