Chelsea ensured qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League with a 2-1 victory over FC Salzburg at the Red Bull Arena on Tuesday, sending them four points clear at the top of Group E.
Stunning goals scored either side of half-time by Mateo Kovacic and Kai Havertz set Chelsea on their way to the knockout stages, while continuing their unbeaten run since Graham Potter succeeded Thomas Tuchel as manager in September. Junior Adamu momentarily drew Salzburg level in the second half, but Chelsea’s victory was rarely in doubt.
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« It’s not easy to create chances against this team but we did, we created good chances from good play, » Potter said.
« We’ve had a lot of games and disruption in terms of key players missing but they [the team] have responded really well and to go through in the Champions League, it’s a fantastic effort. We will take steps, tonight was one of those. »
Both teams started the game at a good tempo, a frantic affair in which neither could fully assert their dominance.
But Chelsea found the opening goal on 23 minutes out of nothing. Kovacic was poised on the edge of the area and when the ball ricocheted out to him, he struck a left-footed snap-shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.
Potter’s side continued to play the eye-catching football which has put them on their impressive run, forcing numerous chances but Salzburg goalkeeper Philipp Kohn held firm. The hosts, on occasion, forayed forward themselves, reminding Chelsea they do carry a threat.
Quick out the blocks in the second half, Salzburg immediately fired themselves back level.
Maximilian Wober charged down the left flank before firing an inch-perfect cross to 21-year-old Adamu, who caressed his first-time finish past Kepa on 49 minutes.
Chelsea, as expected, came back with force in the hunt to restore their lead. After having an effort blocked off the line, Potter’s side went back ahead 15 minutes later through another emphatic strike, this time by Havertz.
Christian Pulisic carried the ball forward before laying off to Havertz, the German shifted the ball onto his left foot before striking a resounding effort in off the crossbar from outside the penalty box.
« In the end the [team with] better quality have won, » Philipp Kohn told Sky Austria. « Such a goal he [Havertz] doesn’t score every day, I have to congratulate him for that. It’s a little bit annoying, we would have liked to get a point. »
Chelsea face Dinamo Zagreb — the only side they suffered Champions League defeat to this season — in their final group match.
Salzburg remain second in the group with AC Milan and Zagreb tied at one point behind them — the two sides face off in Tuesday’s later kick-offs.