CHELSEA NEWS

Round 16 secured, Four things learned from Chelsea’s win vs FC Salzburg as Graham Potter proves Mason Mount point

 

A 2-1 win over Red Bull Salzburg and Chelsea have claimed their place in the last-16 of the Champions League once again. When the Blues recorded a draw at Stamford Bridge against their Austrian opponents in Graham Potter’s first match in charge, a long and difficult road to qualification awaited but Chelsea have since navigated it with aplomb.

Chelsea’s trip to Salzburg got off to an impressive start when Mateo Kovacic’s first time strike hit the back of the net, but Potter will have been frustrated with the number of chances his side missed in the opening half. Junior Adamu’s fine finish early in the second period ensured the Blues knew they would have to work for their win, but Kai Havertz’s excellent strike from 18 yards was enough to send his team through. Potter was pleased with what he saw over the course of 90 minutes. He said:

“It’s not easy to win here, you can see that from the record they have. I thought we performed really well and had some good chances in the first half. We were unlucky not to be more than 1-0 up and then one action at this level, and we’re 1-1. The response was really good and to go through with a game to spare is really pleasing.”

Graham Potter can still surprise us

The 47-year-old has been no stranger to rotation and throwing out a tactical surprise here and there but few would have expected the lineup that was named. Much like when Potter sprung a surprise in his first match against Salzburg when he utilised Raheem Sterling as a wing-back, he did the same again but mirrored with Christian Pulisic on the opposite side.

Chelsea are short of options with the absence of Reece James but still could have utilised Cesar Azpilicueta who started on the bench. However, the Blues boss was keen to take advantage of what he saw as a vulnerability in the opposition, noting before the game:

“We need to have as dangerous a width as we can against a team that defends at times quite narrow. You need to use the width against them, you need to try and affect their defensive idea.”

It appeared to have it’s benefits with both Pulisic and Sterling showing their ability to threaten Salzburg on occasion even if they didn’t end up on the scoresheet. Pulisic showed his ability in the build up to Havertz’s goal. Potter was pleased with how it worked out. He said in his press conference:

“The idea, because of how Red Bull defend, they often give you the opposite space. So if you can get the ball out to someone good in one-vs-one situations, you can have an advantage potential. But also, it makes them stretch across the pitch and open up games in their very organised line. I worked quite well today and I’m pleased for the boys.”

Mason Mount can be rested

A first occurred in Salzburg as Mason Mount had to settle for a place on the bench under Graham Potter. Before the game, he had been the only player other than Kepa Arrizabalaga to start every match under the former Brighton coach and has had a crucial role in Chelsea’s form in the last six weeks. On this occasion he had to settle for a substitute appearance and Conor Gallagher filling in.

The former Crystal Palace loanee was one of Chelsea’s standout performers in Austria and his outing will be deemed a success for reasons beyond the 90 minutes on Tuesday night. Given the hectic schedule, it will be reassuring to Potter than he can rest one of his most important stars on occasion and the team can still function. Mount’s ability to connect midfield and attack has being irreplaceable on occasion in recent seasons, but Chelsea recorded an important win with limited impact from the 23-year-old.

Chelsea can play exciting football

While not every aspect of Chelsea’s performance was perfect, there were some beautiful moves of one and two-touch football as the Blues worked their way up the pitch. Not only that, but Chelsea racked up chances on goal, even if the finishing wasn’t always quite as good.

Seeing 11 shots on target for the Blues is an encouraging sign after draws against Brentford and Manchester United brought back fears that existed under Thomas Tuchel. Chelsea managed seven shots on target across those two matches combined. Tuesday night proved that the Blues could take risks to create good opportunities however.

“It’s not easy to create chances against this team because defensively they are so intense and aggressive,” said Potter. “I thought we did create some good chances from good play. We’ve had a lot of games and a little bit of disruption in terms of some key players missing, but credit to the boys they’ve responded really well.

“They’ve picked up points in the Premier League and to go through like we have in the Champions League is a fantastic effort from everybody. We will take steps, it will not be a straight road, unfortunately. But we will take steps and tonight was one I think.”

Kepa still has areas to improve

Kepa Arrizabalaga has played close to perfection in recent weeks, defying belief with some incredible saves and collecting no shortage of clean sheets. The Blues goalkeeper once again showed his prowess in shotstopping against the Austrian opposition but also served a reminder that he has room to grow. The Spaniard twice came for lofted balls in the box and got nowhere near them in the second half of the Champions League clash.

There’s still a sense the 28-year-old does not have the physicality to battle through a crowd of bodies. Fortunately Thiago Silva was able to read the situation and clear up the ball that broke free following the collision. Kepa has already shown the ability to battle and improve, and hopefully that mindset can lead him to continue that trajectory.

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