SALZBURG, Austria — Chelsea held on to a 2-1 win over FC Salzburg in Austria on Tuesday night to confirm their place in the Champions League knockout stages as Group E winners.
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Mateo Kovacic opened the scoring for the visitors midway through the first half and Junior Adamu equalized just three minutes after the break. But Kai Havertz delivered an impressive eventual winner in the 64th minute to send the Blues home with all three points, at the top of Group E and out of reach of their rivals.
Chelsea host Dinamo Zagreb at Stamford Bridge in a week from Wednesday, while Salzburg will wrap up the Champions League group stage with a trip to AC Milan next week to determine who will follow the west London club to the Round of 16.
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1. Havertz hundred seals Chelsea knockout qualification
Havertz secured Chelsea’s place in the Champions League round of 16 with a stunning goal to earn a 2-1 Group E win over Salzburg in Austria on Tuesday. The Germany striker, who scored the winning goals in the 2021 Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup 2022 finals, delivered another crucial goal to Chelsea after Salzburg threatened to come back from a first-half deficit to bolster their own qualifying hopes.
After Adamu Kovacic’s 23rd-minute opener equalized four minutes into the second half, Salzburg’s confidence grew and they looked good to extend their unbeaten home record in all competitions to 41 games. But Havertz silenced the home crowd and secured Chelsea victory with a left-footed shot from 20 yards out in the 64th minute, beating goalkeeper Philipp Kohn after hitting the underside of the bar.
Had Chelsea lost to the Austrian champions, they would have needed a home game against Dinamo Zagreb on Matchday 6 to safely qualify. But Havertz ended the prospect of a nervous final game with his goal and also saw coach Graham Potter continue his unbeaten run as Chelsea manager for nine games since replacing Thomas Tuchel in September.
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2. Sterling continues to struggle to make an impact
Raheem Sterling was Chelsea’s statement signing earlier this summer, arriving in a £47.5million transfer from Manchester City, but the England striker saw another big game in Salzburg slip past him. The 27-year-old has netted just once in his last 10 games for the club and it looked unlikely to end that fruitless streak as Graham Potter’s side missed a number of chances to comfortably win the game.
On this occasion, Sterling was forced to play at left-back, with Potter opting for a three-man defense in Austria. Playing across the board with greater defensive responsibility is not conducive to getting the best out of a player who had his best form at City in a more advanced position or as a central striker under Pep Guardiola.
Potter had clearly told Sterling to stay as much as possible to stretch the pitch and Christian Pulisic gave the same instructions down the right flank, but the tactical plan swept away Sterling’s best qualities. Potter’s challenge is finding a way to get more out of one of his top players because if Chelsea are to fight for honor this season, Sterling will have to contribute a lot more.
3. Salzburg’s youth policy shines again
Salzburg are regarded as one of the best recruiting teams in Europe, with the Austrian champions’ ability to spot young talent, develop them and then take those players to bigger clubs in more competitive leagues.
Their list of former players is enormously impressive, led of course by Erling Haaland, who scored in his Champions League debut as a teenager after signing from Molde. Aside from Haaland, Salzburg have also set the likes of Sadio Mane, Dayot Upamecano, Takumi Minamino and Karim Adeyemi on the road to stardom elsewhere.
Benjamin Sesko, the 19-year-old Slovenian striker, is believed to be the next big thing and was already due for a move to Red Bull partner club RB Leipzig but was called up as a replacement by coach Matthias Jaissle because of the form of 21-year-old striker Adamu . The Austria international has scored eight goals in his last nine home games, winning the bid against Chelsea and repaying his coach with an equalizer early in the second half. Adamu and Sesko are both destined for a move to bigger clubs, with defender Strahinja Pavlovic and midfielder Luka Sucic also making a big impression.
To underline Salzburg’s youth orientation, the starting XI had the youngest average age in the Champions League since 2009 at 22 years and 10 days. Only Arsenal (2009) and Ajax (2003 and 2004) have ever fielded younger sides in the Champions League competition.
Salzburg: Philip Kohn 9; Amar Dedic 6, Bernardo 7, Strahinja Pavlovic 7, Maximilian Wober 7; Lucas Gourna Douath 6; Nicolas Seiwald 6, Luka Sucic 8, Maurits Kjaergaard 7; Noah Okafor 6, Chukwubuike Adamu 8
Subtitle: Benjamin Sesko 7, Roko Simic 6, Andreas Ulmer 6
Chelsea: Kepa Arrizabalaga 6; Trevoh Chalobah (6), Thiago Silva (7), Marc Cucurella (5); Christian Pulisic 5, Mateo Kovacic 7, Jorginho 6, Raheem Sterling 6; Conor Gallagher6; Kai Havertz 7, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang 5
Subtitle: Ruben Loftus-Cheek6, Cesar Azpilicueta6, Armando Broja6, Hakim Ziyech6, Mason Mount6
Best and worst performers
BEST: Philipp Kohn, Salzburg. The Salzburg goalkeeper overcame a header from Havertz in the second minute and another shot later in the first half to a world-class performance from the home side. Without Kohn, Chelsea could have scored five or six goals.
WORST: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Chelsea. The Chelsea forward missed too many clear chances for a striker of his quality. Panicked at the last minute in August, Aubameyang is not the answer to the team’s scoring problems.
Highlights and notable moments
Potter has put himself in a rare air on his first taste of the Champions League as Chelsea manager.
Graham Potter is the first Chelsea manager to go unbeaten in his first 4 Champions League games since Roberto Di Matteo in 2012 👀
They won the Champions League this year 🏆 pic.twitter.com/ygKcm9kfgW
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 25, 2022
After the game: what the managers, players said
Gallagher on Kovacic’s goal: “It was a great finish, I honestly couldn’t believe it. Scoring that first goal was important and it helped us and gave us confidence in the game.”
Kovacic: “It’s nice to meet where I was born. My parents were here and my friends.”
Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Chelsea haven’t lost a Champions League game by scoring the first goal since April 2014, when they lost 3-1 to Atletico Madrid in the semifinals. The longest streak of this type in the competition dates back at least to 2010/11.
– Chelsea are now unbeaten for 21 straight games when Chalobah starts.
Salzburg: The Red Bull-backed club remain at home for Saturday’s return to the Austrian Bundesliga against TSV Hartberg.
Chelsea: The Blues are set to return to England for a Premier League competition on Saturday, the former home of not just Potter but Cucurella: Brighton & Hove Albion.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/uefa-champions-league/story/4781219/havertz-sends-chelsea-into-last-16but-attack-still-falters Havertz sends Chelsea into last 16, but attack still falters