Chelsea won their group and reached the Champions League knockout stages with a game to spare after Kai Havertz’s stunning second-half strike helped to see off Red Bull Salzburg 2-1.
The Blues now cannot be caught at the top of Group E, meaning Graham Potter, who is now unbeaten in his first nine matches as Chelsea’s head coach, has the luxury of being able to rest players in the final group game at home to Dinamo Zagreb next week.
The visitors’ margin of victory should have been far greater but a combination of some wasteful finishing from Pierre-Emerick Aubemayeng and Havertz, and some inspired goalkeeping by Salzburg’s Philipp Kohn, meant the result was in the balance until the final whistle.
But Havertz put his early miss behind him to ensure he ended up as the match-winner when he swept home a brilliant effort from the edge of the Salzburg area, which even outshone the classy goal Mateo Kovacic scored in the first half and cancelled out Junior Adamu’s equaliser just after half-time.
Red Bull Salzburg: Kohn (9), Dedic (6), Bernardo (7), Pavlovic (6), Wober (7), Gourna Douath (6), Seiwald (6), Kjaergaard (6), Sucic (6), Adamu (7), Okafor (6).
Subs: Sesko (7), Ulmer (6), Simic (6), Kameri (n/a).
Chelsea: Kepa (6), Chalobah (8), Silva (8), Cucurella (7), Pulisic (6), Gallagher (7), Jorginho (7), Kovacic (8), Sterling (6), Aubameyang (6), Havertz (7).
Subs: Loftus-Cheek (6), Azpilicueta (6), Broja (6), Mount (n/a), Ziyech (n/a).
Man of the match: Philipp Kohn
How Chelsea ended Salzburg’s 40-game unbeaten home run
Potter has enjoyed a strong start to life as Chelsea’s head coach and he may feel the first 45 minutes at the Red Bull Arena was the best his side have produced during his short time in charge.
Salzburg were able to rattle their more illustrious visitors with their high press in the opening exchanges but Chelsea quickly established their authority and took the lead through Kovacic, whose effort from the edge of the area seemed to catch everyone – including the motionless Kohn – unawares as it flew into the top corner.
- Graham Potter made four changes to his Chelsea side, with Christian Pulisic, Conor Gallagher, Mateo Kovacic and Kai Havertz replacing Cesar Azpilicueta, Ben Chilwell, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mason Mount
- Red Bull Salzburg made two alterations to their starting XI, with Luka Sucic and Amar Dedic replacing Oumar Solet and Lawrence Agyekum
Potter’s side proceeded to create a plethora of chances as they bamboozled Salzburg with their slick attacking football but were unable to extend their advantage as Aubameyang dallied over a one-on-one with Kohn, while Havertz directed a weak header straight at the ‘keeper.
Potter’s predecessor Thomas Tuchel had often bemoaned Chelsea’s lack of cutting edge and it looked as though the same issue would trouble Potter when Salzburg stunned the Premier League side shortly after half-time.
The head coach had boldly opted for Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic as his wing-backs in a 3-5-2 formation and, while they played their role in Chelsea’s impressive attacking display, the duo left space behind them for the Austrian side to exploit, which they did when Maximilian Wober’s brilliant cross from the left was turned in by Adamu.
But, after absorbing that body blow at the start of the half, Chelsea composed themselves and re-established their lead through Havertz, whose stunning finish had more than a passing resemblance to his first goal for Germany in their draw with England last month.
Chelsea had further chances to add to their lead – notably through Pulisic, who fluffed his lines when set up by Havertz – while Kepa Arrizabalaga had to be bailed out by Thiago Silva when he was beaten to a high ball into the area by Strahinja Pavlovic, but Chelsea were able to hold on and end Salzburg’s remarkable 40-game unbeaten run at home.
Havertz recalls sense for the big occasion
Havertz’s winning goals for Chelsea in the Champions League final in May 2021 and Club World Cup final earlier this year ensured he will always hold a place in the hearts of the club’s fans, but even diehard Blues supporters must admit the German has failed to show his best form under either Tuchel or Potter this season.
Havertz’s questionable form came to a head this month, when he was replaced at half-time during Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Aston Villa – when they were lucky to go into the break without conceding – and was anonymous in the draw at Brentford a few days later.
The 23-year-old found himself left on the bench for the duration of last weekend’s tie with Manchester United and could have had no complaints with Potter’s decision after registering just two goals and no assists in 14 games.
Havertz was recalled for the trip to Salzburg and, while he was more involved than on his previous outings, he continued to frustrate and passed up a glorious scoring opportunity when he aimed a weak header straight at the goalkeeper in the first half.
The forward’s performance in Austria was hardly vintage – he lost the ball more than any other Chelsea player – but his brilliant match-winning goal reminded everyone of his sense for the big occasion.
Havertz’s second-half goal not only secured all three points for Chelsea but also guaranteed their place in the last 16 of the Champions League. His previous two strikes this season – at home to West Ham and Wolves – were also match-winners.
What is more, Havertz’s goal against Salzburg was only the second time he’s scored away from Stamford Bridge in the Champions League. The only other occasion was in Porto, when Chelsea beat Manchester City 1-0 to lift the trophy for just the second time.
Havertz must shake his habit of drifting out of matches to truly be considered world class, but there’s no denying his uncanny knack of reappearing just when his side needs him.
Potter: We deserved to go through
Speaking to BT Sport after seeing his side reach the Champions League knockout stages, Graham Potter said he was “delighted”, adding: “Fantastic performance from the players. They showed real courage here because of the atmosphere, the way they are so intense, put you under a lot of pressure but I thought we controlled it quite well.
“We attacked well, created some chances. A bit disappointed to only be 1-0 at half-time. One mistake or action from them, which can happen at this level, but we responded really well.
“Great goal from Kai and overall we deserved to go through. It was hard work but it’s going to be at this level. I’m delighted for the players.
“We got Raheem into good areas and Christian as well and the fact they have to defend as a back-four, quite wide, there are big spaces which allows Conor (Gallagher) and Kai to get in.”
England World Cup squad watch
Trevoh Chalobah has benefitted more than most from Potter’s appointment, with the centre-back – who was out of favour under Tuchel – starting his sixth match in a row against Salzburg.
The 23-year-old – who was born in Sierra Leone – has three caps for England U21s and his impressive performances as part of Chelsea’s back-three could tempt Gareth Southgate to consider him for a similar role at the World Cup.
Conor Gallagher is also enjoying life under Potter and produced a strong display in Austria as he bids to secure one of the midfield berths in the England squad.
Raheem Sterling is as good as guaranteed a ticket to Qatar but his solid outing at left wing-back could give Southgate reason to consider him for a similar role this winter.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek spoke on Monday about his hopes of travelling to a second World Cup but he had to make do with a second-half substitute appearance, in which he played his part in helping Chelsea see out their win.
Gareth Southgate’s provisional squad will have to be whittled down to a final 26-man list, which has to be submitted to FIFA on Monday November 14.
Chelsea will be back in Premier League action against Brighton on Saturday; kick-off 3pm. They will then welcome Dinamo Zagreb to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday November 2 in their final Champions League group match.
Red Bull Salzburg will face Hartberg in the Austrian Bundesliga before facing AC Milan next Wednesday in their final Champions League group match.
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