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Red Bull Salzburg lost for the first time in 40 home games spanning nearly two years, as Mateo Kovačić’s strike set Chelsea on their way to the UEFA Champions League (UCL)’s last 16 with a matchday to spare, after a 2-1 win at the Red Bull Arena.
Perhaps feeling passionate after a raucous tribute to the recently deceased Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz, Bernardo committed an early defensive error that saw a charging Kai Havertz put in front of goalkeeper Philipp Köhn, who collided with the German and took a blow that left him temporarily prostrate. But the Blues went ahead on 23 minutes, when a lurking Mateo Kovačić hit a first-time effort with his left boot on the ‘D’, and found the top-left corner of Köhn’s net for just a fifth goal across 197 Chelsea appearances.
Graham Potter’s men were now on top, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had two golden opportunities before the break. Firstly, Havertz was played through and found the Gabonese hitman in space, but Köhn pulled off a diving stop in the one-on-one. Then, on the stroke of HT, an exchange down the left flank saw Aubameyang latch on to a Raheem Sterling flick, but Köhn was again equal to his shot, palming the ball low and away to his right.
Salzburg needed a quick response, and got one just three minutes into the second half, as a long ball from Max Wöber evaded the Chelsea backline, and Junior Adamu stole a march in front of Marc Cucurella to side-foot beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga for a shock equaliser. Jorginho then came close to making it 2-1, but his header from a corner was stopped on the line by Adamu, who was looking more like a man possessed with every second-half minute.
However, Chelsea did regain the lead just after the hour mark, and Havertz finally got the goal his ingenuity deserved in emphatic style. He was indebted to some fancy footwork from Christian Pulisic, who found him on the edge of the ‘D’ after evading his marker, with lax defending allowing Havertz to switch the ball to his left foot, via which he smashed a fierce strike into the corner off the bar, netting his first Chelsea goal away from home in the UCL.
Chances came for both sides in the closing stages, but Chelsea finished the stronger as Salzburg went through the motions. With this victory, the two-time UCL winners have now qualified from all but one of their last 19 group stage appearances in the competition, leaving Salzburg potentially starting matchday six outside the top-two in Group E.