Graham Potter joked managing Chelsea is easy when one “amazing” attacker does what he did, and provided a Mateo Kovacic injury update on a night where records fell.
Chelsea advanced to the knockout stage of the Champions League after ending RB Salzburg’s 40-match unbeaten streak on home soil.
The Blues are yet to taste defeat under Graham Potter and Tuesday night’s clash in Austria did not trouble the new Chelsea boss’ own streak.
His undefeated run of nine matches is the longest any new Chelsea manager has gone to begin their tenure for 116 years.
Mateo Kovacic opened the scoring in the 23rd minute with a superb instinctive finish from the edge of the area.
Salzburg levelled the scores soon after the break mere seconds after Chelsea saw a penalty appeal waved away. Junior Adamu calmly tucked home a sublime Max Wober pass to tee up a potential comeback by the hosts.
However, Salzburg’s hopes were extinguished 15 minutes later when Kai Havertz curled the ball in off the underside of the crossbar to make it 2-1.
Chelsea saw out the final stretches in relative comfort and duly booked their place in the Round of 16.
Speaking to BT Sport after the match, Graham Potter said: “Delighted, fantastic performance from the players.
“Showed real courage here because of the atmosphere, their intensity, they put you under a lot of pressure.
“But we controlled it quite well, attacked well, created some chances… bit disappointed to only be 1-0 at half time.
“One action [goal] from them which can happen at this level, but we responded really well and a great goal from Kai. We deserved to go through.”
Potter explains plan to expose Salzburg
When asked how difficult it was for his players in the second half, Potter admitted: “It was hard work, but it’s going to be at this level, that’s how it is.
“Away from home in the Champions League is so complicated with the crowd, the team, the quality they have.
“But overall we played well, created some chances, scored two good goals and responded well to when we had setbacks.
“Overall, I’m delighted for the players, they’ve been fantastic.”
Potter suggested pre-match Chelsea must utilise the wide areas to help break Salzburg down.
When asked how well his side did just that, the Blues boss delved deeper into why that tactic was important: “I thought we did it quite well.
“We got Raheem [Sterling] in some good areas and Christian [Pulisic] as well.
“They defend in a back four quite wide and it allows big spaces for Conor [Gallagher] and Kai to get in.
“I said we could’ve had another couple of goals [in the first half], but not easy because of how they defend, so good.”
His tactic of dragging the Salzburg defender slightly wider certainly seemed to work. Indeed, both Chelsea goals were scored from central areas with Kovacic and Havertz finding a pocket of space on the edge of the box.
“Amazing” Havertz goal makes Chelsea life easy
On Havertz’s superb matchwinner, a beaming Potter said: “Amazing, wasn’t it, top corner.
“It makes my job a lot easier when they can do that. Great for him, really pleased because he’s been fighting and trying his best and he’s been nearly there to scoring more.
“To score that and to helps us through, fantastic.”
Chelsea were bottom of the group when Potter took the Chelsea reins. A draw and three successive victories later, the Blues are through to the knockout rounds with a game to spare.
When interviewer Jules Breach joked Potter is making light work of the Champions League, he responded: “I wish!
“Credit to the player’s they’ve been fantastic. Tough game against Salzburg (home leg) in difficult circumstances with not too much understanding of their players.
“The two Milan games were really important for us to show our quality, which we did. And then tonight to win is a fantastic result for us.”
Kovacic injury update
Potter gave a brief update on goalscorer Kovacic who was withdrawn earlier than expected in the second half.
“He’s just feeling his calf a little bit,” continued Potter. “It was a heavy pitch and there’s a bit of tightness – hopefully it’s not too bad.
“It was the same for Mason [Mount] and Ruben [Loftus-Cheek]. It’s just how it is at this point in the season.”
Finally, Potter was asked about what he expects when Chelsea square off against his former side Brighton on Saturday.
“Another tough game,” added Potter. “Obviously I know the team very well, I know their quality. I look forward to going back there.”