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Familiar finishing woes trouble Graham Potter on promising Chelsea bow

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For all of Chelsea’s defensive structure and solidity under Thomas Tuchel, the German was given his marching orders at least in part due to his inability to make the Blues a formidable attacking side.

He had a plethora of forward options at his disposal, but even after the near-£100m re-signing of Romelu Lukaku last summer, Chelsea still couldn’t blow teams away on a regular basis. In the second half of Tuchel’s reign, they could barely squeak past them either.

Todd Boehly’s desire to build an all-conquering football team has since led him to appointing his first new head coach in the shape of Brighton’s Graham Potter.

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A lot has been made of whether the former Ostersunds boss will be able to make the step up, whether he will be able to command the respect of a dressing room filled with infinitely bigger egos than he’s ever managed, but the first impressions were positive.

Potter’s first match in charge came on Wednesday evening, making his Champions League managerial debut against Salzburg at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea opened the game with plenty of pressing, vertical passing and intensity. It’s the sort of impact you’d expect a team with a ‘new manager bounce’ to have, but the Blues looked far more fun and up for the fight than they’ve been maybe all calendar year.

Just after the interval, Raheem Sterling – deployed by Potter as a wing-back who played right on the touchline – cut inside and opened the scoring with a wicked curled finish. It was exactly what Chelsea deserved.

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However, the evening was soured by a late Salzburg equaliser completely against the run of play, with Thiago Silva’s weak defending allowing Noah Okafor to creep in and score the game’s final goal.

Chelsea played with a clear plan and identity, but were made to rue missed chances, and that’s not an entirely new story in recent times. It’s hardly an unfamiliar one for a team managed by Potter, either.

One of Potter’s biggest criticisms at Brighton was related to the amount of draws racked up where they had played well enough to win. The Seagulls would often go on long runs without victory to the irk of their supporters (which the 47-year-old did not take kindly to).

It was a frequent occurrence on the south coast, and it only really changed down the stretch of last season when they finally showed some ruthlessness and put opponents to the sword, earning a club-record ninth-place finish.

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Potter eventually got his Brighton side firing after three years in charge, but he won’t be afford that same time at Chelsea regardless of how many reports about their long-term commitment to him creep up.

In theory, having more historically prolific attackers at his disposal should mean that more chances will lead to more goals. But Chelsea have tried to find that scoring freedom in the past with the likes of Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard, and it didn’t quite go to those respective plans.

Nevertheless, Potter is likely to succeed if his Blues play the way they did on Wednesday. It’s on the players to do their part and provide the finishing touches.



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Champions League

Lionel Messi breaks two Champions League records against Maccabi Haifa

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Lionel Messi’s goal against Maccabi Haifa saw him set two new Champions League records.

It wasn’t an easy night in Israel for Messi and PSG by any means, with the home side taking a shock lead 24 minutes in courtesy of Tjaronn Chery.

However, they couldn’t stay in front for long with Messi getting his team an equaliser just 13 minutes later.

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He spread the ball out wide to Kylian Mbappe who got to the byline and played it back, giving the Argentinian an easy finish from well inside the box. The goal proved to be the start of PSG’s comeback, with the French side going on to win 3-1, and that wasn’t the only reason it was significant.

With his goal, Messi scored against his 39th different club in the Champions League, setting a new record in the process.

Before that, he and long-term Cristiano Ronaldo were level on 38, and with Ronaldo not playing in the Champions League this season, the record is now set to be Messi’s for quite some time.

That wasn’t the only record the 35-year-old secured on Wednesday as Messi has now scored in 18 consecutive Champions League campaigns – every year since 2005/06 – accomplishing a feat never seen before.

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Perhaps the biggest record – most Champions League goals – still eludes him, with Ronaldo scoring 14 more, and it seems unlikely he’ll be able to make up such a margin before he retires, but it would take a brave man to put it past him.



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Champions League

Borussia Dortmund couldn’t stop me

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Erling Haaland has praised Borussia Dortmund for how they defended against Manchester City, but was keen to point out that they still couldn’t find a way to stop him.

Man City struggled to break the Bundesliga side down in what was an eventual 2-1 Champions League win on Wednesday, not having a single shot on target until John Stones’ 80th minute effort.

That shot on target was also their first goal, and their second one was the winner, with Haaland volleying his team to victory.

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The Norwegian praised the way his former team played and defended but issued a reminder that it wasn’t enough to stop him.

When told by an interview on BT Sport that BVB ‘clearly know how to stop you’, Haaland replied: “They didn’t stop me, I scored!

“But yeah, they played well and they were good, and I was quite sure I was going to be followed all game because they know me very well.

“Dortmund were really good today, and in the end, the three points is what matters.”

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Haaland’s goal was one of the best he’s scored, with the striker lifting his leg extremely high to turn in a stunning cross from Joao Cancelo.

The team’s first one wasn’t bad either, with Stones firing in from outside the box, but Haaland joked that his was the better of the two.

“Yeah, two wonderful goals today. I think mine was a bit better, honestly,” he added.

The 22-year-old now has just one goal less than Luis Suarez in the Champions League and only four fewer than Wayne Rooney.

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Champions League

Pep Guardiola lauds ‘exceptional’ Jude Bellingham after stellar Champions League outing

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Pep Guardiola was full of praise for the “exceptional” Jude Bellingham after he impressed in Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester City in the Champions League.

The 19-year-old had put Dortmund on course for a surprise win at the Etihad Stadium when he headed home Marco Reus’ centre just before the hour mark, but the Bundesliga giants were unable to hold on as late goals from John Stones and Erling Haaland turned the tide in City’s favour.

Nevertheless, Dortmund were impressive in their defensive shape throughout the 90 minutes, as well as causing problems on the counter, and Bellingham was one of the more impressive performers on the night.

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Mixing finesse on the ball with wonderful vision and instinctive reading of the game, Bellingham out-duelled the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan for large periods, and showed why he’s one of the most highly-rated teenagers in world football.

Liverpool are long-term admirers of Bellingham, but judging by Guardiola’s comments after the game, there’s every chance City may look to sign the England international when the time comes for him to leave Dortmund.

“I was impressed two seasons ago when he was 17. Now he’s 19… he was good at 17, imagine now at 19,” Guardiola said of Bellingham. “He’s able to follow [Ilkay] Gundogan, Kevin [De Bruyne], win the duels, transitions are fast, to have the sense in the box for the goal he scored.

“So yes, an exceptional player. I think everybody knows it, not because the manager of Manchester City says it, everybody knows it.”

Bellingham’s manager at Dortmund, Edin Terzic, was equally full of praise for his display on the night, telling the assembled media: “Jude, like all the other players, gave a great performance in offensive and defensive terms. 

“He blocked so any passes and crosses and also got forward… once again, he was very good against Manchester City.”

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