Battling Salzburg held a disjointed Chelsea to a 1-1 draw in the Champions League on Wednesday, severely denting the 2021 winners’ chances of qualifying from Group E.
Raheem Sterling put the London side ahead in the 48th minute latching on to a low cross from Mason Mount and shooting beyond the diving Philipp Kohn into the left corner of his net.
But Noah Okafor equalised in the 75th minute with a low shot after Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva had failed to clear the ball. The Austrian side also drew against AC Milan last week.
It was a disappointing first game for new Chelsea coach Graham Potter, who took over at the end of last week, following the shock dismissal of Thomas Tuchel after Chelsea lost their first group game to Dinamo Zagreb.
Following AC Milan’s earlier 3-1 win over Zagreb, Chelsea sit bottom of Group E after two games with the Serie A champions up next at Stamford Bridge on 5 October.
Potter-ball shows risks and rewards
Potter was appointed six days ago, and following a week which he called a “whirlwind” got his first taste of Champions League football, having never seen the competition before in the flesh.
There have been questions about his credentials, having managed for only three years in the Premier League with Brighton. And although it was a positive display from his side and they wasted several good chances late on with Armando Broja also firing over, he will now realise he has to quickly turn things around in Europe after Chelsea’s poor start to the season.
The 47-year-old, who watched in a black suit as Stamford Bridge observed impeccably a minute’s silence to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, quickly established his own stamp on the team by dropping Wesley Fofana, Kalidou Koulibaly and Ben Chilwell from the side that lost at Dinamo Zagreb last week.
That saw Silva and Cucurella make up a back three with Cesar Azpilicueta, but the biggest surprise was seeing Sterling at left wing-back in a 3-4-3 formation.
That may have been too simplistic, though, as the forward was stationed way up the pitch for the most part and twice wasted good chances at the back post in the first half.
The closest the two teams came to opening the scoring before the break came within a minute of each other. Mason Mount sliced a shot inches wide of the post after another deep run and cross from Cucurella, before Benjamin Sesko had a curling effort tipped around the post by Kepa Arrizabalaga after Sterling gave the ball away.
But the England international made up for that mistake and showed why he was positioned so far up the pitch three minutes after the break.
Reece James started the move on the right flank with a powerful run and fed Mount, whose low cross was miscontrolled by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Fortunately, Sterling took a measured touch before finding the inside of the post for this fourth of the season.
At that stage Chelsea began to control the game and looked like they would add to their lead.
However, the desire to play in Salzburg’s half backfired when both Sterling and Cucurella were dispossessed near the halfway line, leading to the equaliser.
Once the ball was played wide of Silva, he seemed as if he would close down Adamu and avert danger.
But the normally reliable Brazilian missed the tackle, with Okafor adding to the goal he scored against AC Milan in Salzburg’s draw last week.
There were plenty of chances for Chelsea to take the lead again as Potter made five substitutes in search of a goal.
But the Austrian champions held on after Ziyech and Broja were wasteful.