Mateo Kovacic stood out as Chelsea eked a 2-1 win over Red Bull Salzburg to top Group E in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.
Chelsea and Red Bull Salzburg traded blows in the early exchanges, but chances came few and far between. Chelsea soon took control of the proceedings before breaking the deadlock midway as the ball fell kindly to Mateo Kovacic. And the Croat produced a brilliant first-time shot to beat Philipp Kohn.
Chelsea continued dominating the proceedings after that but should have gone into half-time with a bigger advantage. And Red Bull Salzburg had Kohn to thank for making a brilliant save to deny Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The hosts took comfort from going into the break only a goal down and hit back a few minutes into the second half.
Salzburg nearly won a penalty early in the second period, but referee Sandro Scharer and the VAR rightly denied the calls to penalise Kovacic. However, the hosts duly pulled back on level terms when Junior Adamu produced a top-class finish from Maximilian Wober’s marvellous cross into the Chelsea box.
Adamu then denied Jorginho with a goal-line clearance a few minutes later to keep the score level. But Chelsea restored the one-goal advantage through Kai Havertz, whose strike from outside the Red Bull Salzburg box nestled into the top corner. Chelsea subsequently saw the game out to beat Salzburg 2-1 and clinch the top spot in Group E. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Graham Potter’s men.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) October 25, 2022
Kepa Arrizabalaga: 6/10
After keeping clean sheet after clean sheet, Kepa has now conceded a goal in his last two games. But the Spaniard was not at fault for Junio Adamu’s strike, and he could not have done much to keep out the Red Bull Salzburg striker. However, Kepa had a few hairy moments in the air, which he should address.
Trevoh Chalobah: 7/10
Chalobah was a busy customer in the face of Red Bull Salzburg’s rally at different stages. The 23-year-old made a staggering six clearances while winning six duels. But his output on the ball was somewhat sub-par, as he lost possession 14 times. Otherwise, he was top-class for Chelsea.
Thiago Silva: 7/10
Silva was the standout defender for Chelsea on Tuesday as he held the fort at the base of the defensive unit. The Brazilian international made several blocks and clearances while building up efficiently from the back. A clearance off the line also kept Chelsea in front midway through the second half. Silva is in a league of his own.
Marc Cucurella: 6/10
Cucurella retained his spot in the starting lineup following his early substitution versus Manchester United. And the Spaniard was solid for the most part, making a few crucial interventions while winning all his duels. But Cucurella failed to stop Adamu in his tracks when Salzburg got back on level terms in the second half.
Christian Pulisic: 6/10
Potter installed two attacking players as the wing-backs against Red Bull Salzburg. And it worked wonders in the final third as Pulisic helped stretch play and created a couple of chances. But the USMNT international struggled in the defensive phases, including in the build-up to Adamu’s goal, as he did not mark Maximilian Wober. Still, there were some positive signs on show from Pulisic.
Mateo Kovacic: 9/10
5 – Mateo Kovacic is only the second player to score his first five Champions League goals under different managers (Jurcic, Benitez, Zidane, Lampard, Potter), along with Luka Modric (Redknapp, Mourinho, Ancelotti, Benitez, Zidane). Varied. pic.twitter.com/dPls7zUUis
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 25, 2022
Kovacic showed again how he is a game-changer for Chelsea in the middle of the park. The Croat carried the ball with confidence and helped unlock the Salzburg defence. At the same time, he won four duels, showcasing his defensive abilities.
But the cherry on top was the exquisite strike without a backlift which ended with the ball in the top corner. However, Potter took him off due to an issue with his calf, which will leave Chelsea fans worried.
Jorginho produced one of his better performances of the season thus far. The Italian international was the catalyst in Chelsea asserting control over the proceedings on Tuesday. He completed all but two of his attempted passes and also made his mark in the defensive phases with a few critical clearances and interceptions.
Conor Gallagher: 7/10
Gallagher is gradually finding his feet at Chelsea and produced another memorable performance this midweek. The English international ran the show from the middle of the park and created a few openings. He also worked hard off the ball, winning eight duels while completing two tackles.
Raheem Sterling: 7/10
Sterling, the player to watch in our preview, was a bundle of energy on the left flank and deserved at least one assist out of his performance. The Englishman created a few decent chances, including one for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang that the Gabonese striker missed. He was not in trouble in the defensive phases as much as Pulisic on the right flank.
Kai Havertz: 7/10
Kai Havertz's game by numbers:
17 passes in final third
7 duels won
4 aerial duels won
3 possession won
1 foul won
1 chance created
And what a goal it was. 💫 pic.twitter.com/cRVVljY9L8
— Squawka (@Squawka) October 25, 2022
Havertz did not have a particularly memorable game until he scored. That is because the German international missed one gilt-edged opportunity in the first half while misplacing several passes. He was careless on the ball, losing possession 24 times. But Havertz’s strike clinched three points for Chelsea, thus boosting his rating.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: 6/10
Aubameyang was Chelsea’s worst attacker on Tuesday, with his finishing leaving a lot to be desired. The former Arsenal captain had two great chances to extend the Blues’ advantage in the first half. But while Aubameyang fluffed his lines with the first opening, Kohn denied him with a sharp save with the other. His finishing needs to improve.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek: 6/10
Loftus-Cheek was a surprise omission from the starting lineup. But the English international did well to keep Red Bull Salzburg at an arm’s length.
Cesar Azpilicueta: N/A
Azpilicueta used his experience to help Chelsea remain in control in the final 15 minutes.
Armando Broja: N/A
Broja struggled to get into the game in the final 15 minutes but held the ball well for his team.
Mason Mount: N/A
Mount barely touched the ball in his cameo.
Hakim Ziyech: N/A
Ziyech barely had any time to make an impact after replacing Gallagher.