LONDON — Graham Potter’s reign at Chelsea is now officially underway. In Chelsea’s first match since manager Thomas Tuchel was fired last week, the Blues settled for a 1-1 draw to Salzburg in the Champions League on Wednesday.
With the result, Chelsea now have just one point from their two opening matches of the Champions League group stage.
A second-half goal from Raheem Sterling became Chelsea’s first of the Champions League campaign after a deadlocked first half, but Salzburg found the equalizer through Noah Okafor.
ESPN’s James Olley is in London with reaction and analysis.
1. Possession-based Graham Potter stalled by familiar issues
The Potter era started at Chelsea with a 1-1 draw over Red Bull Salzburg, and a glimpse at the sort of football the 47-year-old will aim to deliver at Stamford Bridge.
There were hallmarks of his predecessor Thomas Tuchel’s first game in charge — a 0-0 draw against Wolves — given in that match the Blues played three at the back and dominated the ball, recording 78.9% possession that night. In Potter’s three full seasons in charge at Brighton, his team averaged 51.7%, 50.7% and 54.3% possession so there was no surprise that armed with better players here, Chelsea upped that number to 70.8%.
However, one thing that Tuchel’s Chelsea and Potter’s Brighton have also had in common was a wastefulness in front of goal. The Blues ended this 90 minutes ruing several presentable opportunities, the last of which came when Armando Broja blazed over the crossbar in injury time.
At least they scored, but the defensive vulnerability that did so much damage to Tuchel’s Chelsea over time appeared once again as Thiago Silva’s botched interception allowed Junior Adamu to cross and Noah Okafor to equalise.
2. Raheem Sterling continues his rise in a different role
Perhaps the most interesting individual assignment in Potter’s 3-5-2 shape was the use of Sterling as a left wing-back.
In truth, Sterling was usually so far up the pitch that he often resembled a wide forward, and it will have pleased Potter that the goal came from an overload in that position, as Mason Mount’s right-wing cross found its way via Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Sterling, who used his time well to curl a shot into the far corner.
Sterling was just starting to find his feet at the end of Tuchel’s time in charge — scoring three times in his final four matches — and he was a constant menace here before being withdrawn six minutes from time.
Arguably the negatives in Sterling playing that role were shown by Salzburg’s equaliser as both Sterling and left-sided centre-back Marc Cucurella were caught upfield.
3. Christian Pulisic still has impact substitute role
Pulisic played some part as a substitute in all seven games prior to Tuchel’s departure. The reduced role was one reason why he was keen on a move away from the club in the summer transfer window, something the club’s hierarchy refused to consider.
Potter’s arrival marks a fresh start for the entire squad but Pulisic found himself with only limited time to make an impact, introduced as Chelsea’s final change for Sterling with just six minutes remaining. Pulisic had just 11 touches, completing eight of his nine passes but clearly had a difficult task in rescuing the cause so late in the day.
The good news for the U.S. men’s national team international is he got on the pitch. The bad news is his wait to start a match at club level will now run into October — less than two months before the World Cup starts.
Chelsea: Kepa 6, James 8, Azpilicueta 6, Silva 7, Cucurella 6, Mount 7, Kovacic 7, Jorginho 6, Sterling 7, Aubameyang 7, Havertz 5.
Subs: Broja 6, Loftus-Cheek 6, Gallagher 6, Ziyech 5, Pulisic 6.
Salzburg: Kohn 7, Dedic 7, Bernardo 7, Pavlovic 7, Ulmer 7, Capaldo 6, Seiwald 6, Kjaergaard 6, Sucic 6, Sesko 7, Okafor 7.
Subs: Gourna-Douath 6, Kameri 6, Adamu 7, Koita 6.
Best and worst performers
Best performer: Reece James, Chelsea.
England manager Gareth Southgate was in attendance to watch a typically dynamic display at full-back from James, whose movement caused Salzburg’s problems and his pass released Mount to set up Sterling’s goal.
Worst performer: Kai Havertz, Chelsea.
Another quiet night for the 23-year-old, who had a strike-partner in Aubameyan, but both were substituted on 66 minutes.
Highlights and notable moments
Thomas Tuchel is gone but not forgotten for the fans at Stamford Bridge, who honored their former coach during the match. Tuchel was sacked last week after Chelsea opened their Champions League campaign with a loss to Dinamo Zagreb:
Applause from the #cfc fans in the 21st minute in recognition of Thomas Tuchel guiding Chelsea to the 2021 Champions League.
— James Olley (@JamesOlley) September 14, 2022
Following a first half, Raheem Sterling opened Chelsea’s goals account for the Champions League season quickly after the break:
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 14, 2022
Chelsea’s lead didn’t last, however. Salzburg found a well-worked goal (although Chelsea felt there was a foul on the build-up) and pulled level in the final 15 minutes:
NOAH OKAFOR STUNS STAMFORD BRIDGE! 😲 pic.twitter.com/WRxItHTcbk
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 14, 2022
After the match: What the managers, players said
Chelsea manager Graham Potter on the result: “We’re disappointed with the result. I thought the boys gave everything. We scored a good goal, but lost a bit in the second half but their goalkeeper has made some good saves. It is what it is, we have to dust ourselves down. Personality and application was good, we will get better. We got Raheem in one-on-one situations quite often and the goal was a good result of that.”
Potter on whether the players need time to get used to him: “I’ve been very positive with the players, their response, their attitude. They’re intelligent. They are good players, top players. They are working hard for each other. There is a nice spirit in the group. They are disappointed because the results haven’t gone as well as they would like which is normal and you can feel that disappointment, you can feel that frustration. But it is my job to help them try and get the results they want, that we all want. Today is not the best start in terms of points for us but in terms of how we acted on the pitch, as a group, lots of positives.”
Potter on the transition to taking over the team: “It has not been easy for the boys, they have responded to us really well over the last few days and it’s a point we will have to take and get better. The attitude has been fantastic, no complaints apart from the fact we have not taken three points.”
Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Raheem Sterling scored his first Champions League goal with Chelsea. Since the 2019-20 Champions League season no other English player has more goals (11).
Chelsea finish with 1 point through their first two matchdays in Champions League this season. That’s their fewest through their first two matchdays in a single Champions League season since 1999-00, when they also got 1 point.
Chelsea: The Blues return to the Premier League and head to Crystal Palace at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 1. Then, they resume Champions League by hosting AC Milan on Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 3p.m. ET.
Salzburg: Die Roten Bullen return to action in the Austrian Bundesliga, hosting Rapid Vienna on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 11 a.m. ET.