Graham Potter couldn’t get up and running as Chelsea boss as his new side were pegged back in a 1-1 draw with RB Salzburg in Champions League Group E.
The Blues had taken the lead just after the break, only for Noah Okafor to grab the visitors an equaliser when he was left in acres of space in the box.
The home fans rose to their feet on 21 minutes for Thomas Tuchel, who was sacked after their 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb last week and won the Champions League with the club in 2021. That was about as exciting as it got in the first half for the Blues though, as a lack of cutting edge saw numerous promising attacks break down.
Reece James carried the most attacking menace, standing a couple of brilliant crosses up to the back post, but Chelsea failed to register a shot on target before the break, with Mason Mount coming closest as he twice shot wide from outside the box. At the other end, Kepa Arrizabalaga was mainly a spectator, but he had to be at his best to push a terrific effort from Benjamin Sesko around the post.
If the first half was flat, the second was anything but as Chelsea took the lead after just three minutes when James found Mount, whose cross made it all the way through to Sterling at the back post. From there, the England international was never going to miss, beautifully curling into the far bottom corner.
Salzburg made a raft of substitutions and started to carry more of an attacking threat. They equalised when Okafor, who had missed a header moments earlier, was picked out by substitute Junior Adamu and slotted into the far bottom corner.
Chelsea are bottom of the group on one point, three behind leaders AC Milan, who beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-1.
No winning start for Potter: Graham Potter had never been to a Champions League game before tonight, let alone managed one, so this was always going to be a real baptism of fire for the former Brighton boss.
It was interesting to see how Chelsea lined up as they got the new era underway, with Sterling employed as a left wing-back and Cesar Azpilicueta and Marc Cucarella playing as the wide defenders in a back three.
Each of them carried out their duties without much alarm for the majority of the match, but once Salzburg made their substitutions and started trying to get back into the game, the Blues were certainly unsettled. Will Potter continue with the same system back in the Premier League?
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Reece James (Chelsea): There are some outstanding right full-backs and wing-backs in English football at the moment, and James once more showed why he’s right at the top of that list with a sparkling performance that was full of attacking menace.
The Chelsea No. 24 regularly received the ball with his back to goal, but consistently spun his marker before charging down the touchline and whipping dangerous crosses into the box.
He was involved in the goal, leaving his man chasing shadows before finding Mount down the right, and he was also faultless defensively, with Salzburg unable to find a path to goal down his side of the pitch.
CHELSEA: Arrizabalaga 7; James 9, Azpilicueta 6, Silva 6, Cucurella 7; Kovacic 6, Jorginho 7, Mount; Havertz 6, Aubameyang 6, Sterling 7. Subs: Broja 6, Loftus-Cheek 7, Ziyech n/a, Gallagher n/a, Pulisic n/a
Unused subs: Bettinelli, Koulibaly, Chilwell, Fofana, Chalobah, Zakaria, Chukwuemeka
SALZBURG: Kohn 6; Dedic 6, Bernardo 7, Pavlovic 8, Ulmer 6; Seiwald 6, Capaldo 6, Kjærgaard 6, Sucic 6; Sesko 5, Okafor 5. Subs: Gourna-Douath 7, Kameri 7, Adamu 7, Koita n/a
Unused subs: Mantl, Walke, Baidoo, Piatkowski, Van der Brempt, Diarra, Simic
40’ KEPA SAVES FROM SESKO. That was a terrific shot on the spin by Sesko, who nearly finds the bottom corner with a wicked left-footed effort from 25-yards that Kepa does well to get down and save
48’ GOAL! CHELSEA 1-0 SALZBURG (Raheem Sterling). James is the threat once more with a brilliant turn before unleashing Mount. His cross somehow finds Sterling at the back-post, and the forward beautifully curls into the far corner.
73’ OKAFOR COMES CLOSE. That’s a glorious chance to equalise for the Austrians. Okafor, who has scored in his last five matches, is picked out by a left-wing cross, but his flicked header lacks pace and is saved
75’ GOAL! CHELSEA 1-1 SALZBURG! (Okafor) Okafor gets his goal! Silva mistimes a tackle on Adamu, who comes away with the ball and picks out Okafor, who has acres of time and space and slots into the bottom corner. 1-1!
90+2’ BLAZED OVER BY BROJA. Oh, he’s got to hit the target! The ball falls nicely to him ten yards out and he hooks over the bar.