Chelsea manager Graham Potter was left frustrated as Red Bull Salzburg spoiled his first match in charge with a late equaliser by Noah Okafor in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw in the Champions League.
Potter was on course for a winning debut when Raheem Sterling put Chelsea ahead early in the second half at Stamford Bridge.
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But the former Brighton boss, who replaced Thomas Tuchel last week, had to settle for a point as Okafor punished sloppy defending to equalise in the closing stages.
It was a largely underwhelming performance from Chelsea, underlining the work Potter must do to repair the flaws in the expensively assembled squad left behind by Tuchel.
Tuchel was dismissed last Wednesday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s embarrassing 1-0 loss at Dinamo Zagreb in their Champions League opener.
Having taken just one point from their first two Group E matches, Chelsea now face a fight to qualify for the knockout stages with two matches against AC Milan looming.
With Sunday’s Premier League game against Liverpool postponed due to the forthcoming funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, Potter will have to wait until October 1 for his second game when Chelsea travel to Crystal Palace after the international break.
At least that will give Potter time to find his feet after he was appointed just 24 hours after Tuchel’s shock exit – sparking what the 47-year-old described as a “whirlwind” week as he starts the biggest challenge of his career.
Potter earned widespread admiration for his impressive work with Brighton, who enjoyed their highest Premier League finish last season when the Englishman led them to ninth place.
But thriving on a limited budget at Brighton provides only scant preparation for the unique demands of handling a club of Chelsea’s ambition.
Potter had never even been to a Champions League game before walking into Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, with his only previous experience of continental competition coming in the Europa League with Swedish minnows Ostersunds.
He marked the occasion by recalling his old Brighton left-back Marc Cucurella, as well as Thiago Silva and Jorginho, in place of Ben Chilwell, Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly.
Surprisingly used at left wing-back in Potter’s 3-4-3 formation, Sterling spent much of his time more concerned with attack than defence.
The England forward had a close-range volley blocked and Cucurella’s cutback reached Mason Mount, whose shot fizzed wide from the edge of the area.
In the first game since Tuchel was sacked, Chelsea supporters, many shocked by his ruthless dismissal, paid tribute to the German in the 21st minute.
The time was selected as Tuchel lifted Chelsea’s second Champions League trophy when they beat Manchester City in the 2021 final.
If that display of affection might have made Potter feel uncomfortable, he was shifting awkwardly again when Salzburg nearly snatched the lead late in the first half.
Benjamin Sesko was the dangerman with a 25-yard drive that forced a scrambling save from Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Potter’s men failed to muster a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes of his reign.
But the cutting edge they missed in the first half was provided by Sterling in the 48th minute.
Reece James’ raking pass sent Mount away down the right flank and his low cross reached Sterling, who curled a fine finish into the far corner from just inside the area.
Yet Sterling’s fourth goal since his close-season move from Manchester City didn’t serve as a springboard for victory.
Okafor’s glancing header tested Kepa in a warning that Chelsea failed to heed as Salzburg equalised with 15 minutes left.
Bedevilled by defensive mishaps in the final weeks of Tuchel’s reign, Chelsea folded far too easy.
They squandered possession in midfield before Silva failed to clear Junior Adamu’s cross as Okafor converted with a low finish that deflected off the slow-to-react Azpilicueta.
Armando Broja and Hakim Ziyech wasted late chances to restore Chelsea’s lead as the Potter era started in low-key fashion. (AFP)