Kai Havertz breaks long drought to send Chelsea through to Champions League knockout stages
Kai Havertz was the hero for Chelsea as Graham Potter’s side secured their spot in the last 16 of the Champions League thanks to a 2-1 win over Red Bull Salzburg.
After earning just one point from their opening two matches, the Blues have now won three in a row in the Champions League, qualifying for the knockout stages with a game to spare. It wasn’t an easy night for the Blues in Salzburg against a side who had frustrated them in the reverse fixture and held Potter in his first game in charge.
Chelsea travelled to Austria off the back of consecutive wins over AC Milan and knew victory would seal their spot in the last 16, waiting on the result of the other game to see if top spot was secured too. After missing a couple of easier chances, Chelsea took the lead midway through the first half as Mateo Kovacic found the net from out of nothing, stretching around the edge of the area to send the ball into the top left corner.
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Much like his goal against Liverpool in the Premier League last season, Kovacic managed to pull out a wonderful strike when many other players will have struggled to even connect with the ball.
But the Blues were made to pay for a slow start to the second half, and missed chances, when Junior Adamu equalised. The goal was a poor one for Chelsea to concede, beaten easily in every aspect of the move, but special mention should go to Adamu for his finish and Maximilian Wober’s assist bending the ball around the defence from deep.
For a while it looked as though Chelsea’s old problems would come back to bite them. Regardless of the manager, Chelsea have suffered too many dropped points and missed results having failed to take their chances before being punished. It happened in the reverse fixture with Noah Okafor equalising at Stamford Bridge in a game that saw Chelsea have 17 shots (with only four hitting the target) to Salzburg’s four overall (three on target).
On Tuesday night Chelsea were more accurate with their shots but instead struggled to beat goalkeeper Philipp Kohn who made eight saves, and were eventually outshot by their hosts 16-15. But while in the past Chelsea will have drawn or lost that match, they found a way through this time thanks to a bit of magic.
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No, not from Potter, but Kai Havertz. The German has had a tough season for Chelsea so far, still yet to truly fulfil his potential, and went into the game with two goals in 14 matches across all competitions. He had also had a poor record on the road in the Champions League.
Despite scoring at a neutral venue in the 2020/21 Champions League final, Havertz hadn’t scored in an official away game in the competition for both Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea. His record stood at 17 games without a goal, including 13 for Chelsea during which he took 17 shots and hit the target six times. In his 14th away game and 20th away shot for Chelsea, Havertz finally got his goal, beautifully curling the ball into the top left corner from outside the area – reminiscent of his recent strike for Germany against England.
Things weren’t smooth after the goal and Chelsea were holding on in the end, but hold on they did and the Blues also handed Salzburg their first home defeat in 40 matches.
“He’s an incredibly talented player and he’s been nearly there,” Potter told reporters of Havertz.
“It’s fantastic strike and an indiction of the quality he has. I’m really pleased for him.”
He added to BT Sport: “Great for him, really pleased because he’s been fighting and he’s been trying his best, he’s nearly there to scoring more. So today to score that to help us through, it’s fantastic.”
Potter also became just the second Englishman to go undefeated in his first nine games as Chelsea manager across all competitions after William Lewis did so in 1906/07.