Thursday, September 29, 2022

Azpilicueta absolves Silva of blame and remains confident of Champions League progression

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 15 Sep 2022

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Cesar Azpilicueta has absolved Thiago Silva of blame for his error leading to Salzburg’s equaliser in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw and remains confident his side will advance in the Champions League.

Chelsea dominated large parts of the Group E contest – Graham Potter’s first game as new head coach – and took the lead in the 48th minute through Raheem Sterling’s curled finish into the bottom-right corner.

However, Silva failed to intercept a pass out on the left and Junior Adamu broke clear to set up Noah Okafor, who escaped the attention of Azpilicueta in the middle to guide the ball past Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Rather than blame individuals for Okafor’s fifth goal in his past six Champions League outings, captain Azpilicueta – preferred to new signings Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana – says it is down to the entire team to learn lessons.

“The goals were we concede and we score, we do that as a team,” he told beIN SPORTS. “We can go through the goal and there are other positions that we can improve. 

“We had the ball and that’s what we have to improve. We need to be more effective in both boxes and when we arrive we can score more goals. When they arrive, a few times lately, we are conceding. As a collective we have to get better.”

Chelsea have failed to win either of their opening two Champions League games for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, having also lost 1-0 to Dinamo Zagreb last week in Thomas Tuchel’s last game in charge.

Those disappointing results leave Chelsea bottom of Group E and three points behind pacesetters Milan, whom they face home and away in their next two European fixtures after the international break.

Despite their precarious position after two matches, Azpilicueta – the winner of four European trophies during his decade at Stamford Bridge – is upbeat about Chelsea’s chances of reaching the knockout stages.

“We are Chelsea,” he said. “I have full confidence that this group will work hard and will fight until the end. It’s true that it’s not the position that we wanted after the first two games but it’s still in our hands. 

“We have 12 points in front of us. If we grab them we will go through. That’s where Chelsea belong. So that’s where we want to be. We have to go day-by-day, working hard. 

“Now we have an international break. We don’t play at the weekend and hopefully we can regroup, stick together and after the international break we’ll be playing every three days and we need everybody. Hopefully we will do it.”

Potter opted for a hybrid 3-5-2 system for his first game in charge, with versatile forward Sterling selected in a left-sided wing-back role and attack-minded Reece James on the other flank.

Sterling’s starting position may have been deeper than usual, but he found himself in some promising positions and made the breakthrough for Chelsea with his 250th career goal at club level (158 goals, 92 assists).

“We tried this set-up so we could be stronger and to defend against their system and hurt them,” Azpilicueta said when asked about Potter’s team selection. “Raheem is an amazing player playing wide and great in one against one chances. 

“He scored an amazing goal and we tried to build from the back, get into spaces, get midfield players in good positions. I think for moments we had a good control of the game, for others not that good.

“But that’s where we are and we have to analyse, to be humble and know that this group has enormous talent and have to be working because there is still a lot of room for improvement.”

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