Chelsea take on Red Bull Salzburg in Group E of the Champions League on Wednesday, with the Blues looking to win Graham Potter’s first match in charge of the club. Salzburg, meanwhile, recorded a respectable 1-1 draw against AC Milan last week. It has been a tumultuous week for Chelsea, who moved to sack Thomas Tuchel after their 1-0 defeat away to Dinamo Zagreb last Tuesday, before replacing him little more than 24 hours later with former Brighton & Hove Albion manager Graham Potter on a five-year deal. Tuchel, who won the Champions League in his first season in charge before losing on penalties to Liverpool in both domestic cup finals last season, will forever be remembered fondly by the Chelsea fanbase, but new owner Todd Boehly seemingly felt the team’s stuttering form in the early part of this campaign was a sign of a malaise which may have proven difficult to overcome under the German’s management.
Having lavished around £250m on several new signings during his first summer transfer window at the club, Boehly does not lack ambition and he will hope Potter can work his magic on a talented group of players. The 47-year-old had gained 13 points in Brighton’s six matches this season, having guided the Seagulls to their highest-ever top flight finish by finishing ninth last season. However, Wednesday’s visit of Salzburg will be Potter’s first ever Champions League match, illustrating how quickly he must adapt to the step up in class at his new environment. With reports suggesting Boehly tried to persuade Tuchel to switch to a 4-3-3 formation, it will be interesting to see whether the Englishman sticks with the three-man defence which brought him huge success with Brighton, especially as it is one which the majority of his new group are also used to in recent times.
One aspect which could work in his favour is that Chelsea and Brighton share one perceived weakness: the lack of an out-and-out goalscorer. It remains to be seen which individual Potter generally favours in a central role; with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling and Armando Broja to select from, he is clearly not lacking options. Luka Sucic celebrates scoring for Red Bull Salzburg in May 2022© Reuters Salzburg, meanwhile, are competing in the Champions League group stage for the fourth successive campaign, having reached the knockout stages for the first time last season. Despite being humbled 8-2 on aggregate by Bayern Munich at the last-16 stage, the Red Bull group have stood by Matthias Jaissle as their head coach, with the 34-year-old also hoping to help Salzburg lift a 10th successive Austrian Bundesliga title by the end of the current campaign.
They have won seven of their opening eight domestic games so far, and began with a creditable 1-1 draw at home to Italian champions Milan in the Champions League last week. Jaissle likes his side to play with intensity and that is exactly what they achieved for the majority of the match, with Noah Okafor rewarding his team’s pressure with a 28th-minute opener. However, Salzburg tired towards the end of each half, with Alexis Saelemaekers pegging the hosts back with a calm finish from 10 yards five minutes before half-time. Ultimately, a draw was probably the fairest outcome, and it is one which the Austrian champions will hope to build on at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. Chelsea will remain without key midfielder N’Golo Kante, whose hamstring injury could keep him out of action until after the international break.
With this representing the Blues’ only match before the international break after Sunday’s Premier League clash against Liverpool was postponed due to policing being required for the Queen’s funeral on Monday, Potter will almost certainly select what he considers his strongest XI at this early stage of his Chelsea career. It is likely that he will stick with a three-man defence, meaning Reece James should play in his preferred wing-back role, with Ben Chilwell and Marc Cucurella fighting for a spot on the opposite flank. The latter may win that particular duel given that Potter clearly rates the player having signed him for Brighton before selling him to Chelsea for a significant profit during the summer. In midfield, Jorginho could partner Matteo Kovacic, with Mason Mount, Sterling and Havertz forming a fluid front three.
Salzburg, meanwhile, have a host of injury problems, with Maximilian Wober, Oumar Solet, Kamil Piatkowski, Bryan Okoh, Mamady Diambou, Ousmane Diakite, Samson Tijani, Luka Sucic, Justin Omoregie and Sekou Koita all expected to be ruled out of the trip to London. This leaves Strahinja Pavlovic as the club’s only fit senior centre-back, meaning either Andreas Ulmer or former Brighton man Bernardo may have to slot in alongside Pavlovic despite both naturally being left-back’s. Teenage sensation Benjamin Sesko only featured from the bench against Milan after recently suffering a knock himself, but he should be passed fit to start here having opened the scoring away to Ried at the weekend.
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Mendy; Fofana, Silva, Koulibaly; James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Cucurella; Mount, Havertz, Sterling
Red Bull Salzburg possible starting lineup:
Kohn; Dedic, Pavlovic, Ulmer, Bernardo; Capaldo, Seiwald, Kjaergaard; Kameri; Sesko, Okafor