Romelu Lukaku goal caps Chelsea comeback after Luton threaten to deepen turmoil

Luton Town 2 Chelsea 3

It felt as if the crisis that has enveloped Chelsea was about to take on yet more collateral damage. The Luton striker, Harry Cornick, had raced through to put his team back in front just before half-time and Kenilworth Road was rocking. The Championship promotion chasers scented an FA Cup upset.

It is impossible to follow Chelsea at the moment, during this week of all weeks, without being distracted by the broader, more serious picture. In other words, the unravelling of Roman Abramovich’s ownership amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

There have been calls in parliament for the oligarch to be sanctioned, a move by him to try to hand over stewardship of Chelsea to their charitable foundation and, on the verge of kick-off here, confirmation that he intends to sell the club.

In football terms, Chelsea were reeling from Sunday’s Carabao Cup final penalty shoot-out loss to Liverpool, albeit after a decent performance, and now they were staring at an upset against Luton.

They were able to gather themselves in the second half, relief chief among the emotions for Thomas Tuchel, not least as it was the manager’s two struggling strikers who turned the tie around.

After a tactical tweak to 3-5-2 that put them alongside each other up front, Timo Werner scored the equaliser with a fine touch and finish. And he then crossed low from the right for Romelu Lukaku to slide home the winner. Despite Luton’s fight, particularly in the first half, Chelsea had too much.

It was at a little after 6pm that Abramovich had released his statement about the intended sale. He will not seek to call in his £1.5 billion loans and the net proceeds from the change of ownership, he said, would be donated to a charitable fund that will benefit the victims of the war in Ukraine. Abramovich’s name would be chorused at various points by the Chelsea fans. “You are embarrassing,” retorted the home crowd.

The story is moving fast and, as at Wembley on Sunday, it cast an inescapable shadow over the game. What is the point of anything, including football, when war is tearing a country apart?

Harry Cornick of Luton Town fires past Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to score Luton Town’s second goal during the FA Cup fifth-round match at Kenilworth Road. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Harry Cornick of Luton Town fires past Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to score Luton Town’s second goal during the FA Cup fifth-round match at Kenilworth Road. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Amid the existential questions, Tuchel’s task was to guide Chelsea into a sixth FA Cup quarter-final in seven seasons and, as he made sweeping changes to his Carabao Cup final line-up, it was significant that his opposite number, Nathan Jones, did something similar. For the Luton manager, the Championship games at Middlesbrough and Coventry on Saturday and Tuesday respectively are crucial.

Luton started with a ferocious intensity – the players feeding off the crowd and vice versa – and they were in front inside two minutes when Reece Burke got to a Luke Berry corner in front of Malang Sarr to send a looping header into the far corner. It felt as if Chelsea were still trying to understand who was who and where. Tuchel had started with Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the middle of the back three while there was a first Chelsea start for Kenedy since January 2018.

Tuchel’s team stabilised. They had started to creep forward, Saúl sending a header straight at Harry Isted. What a night it was for the substitute goalkeeper. He had come on for Jed Steer, who turned his ankle in gruesome fashion, for only his third Luton appearance. The other two were in the Football League Trophy.

When Saúl swept home the equaliser – his first goal for Chelsea – after good work by the non-stop Mason Mount and a break of the ball off Werner, Chelsea reached for the jugular. They created a clutch of chances, the best of them being a one-on-one for Saúl, which Isted saved. There was a Kenedy rocket that the goalkeeper tipped over; a shot from Lukaku that drew a good save and the moment when Isted misjudged a long Antonio Rüdiger ball and got away with it.

Luton could feel that Chelsea were vulnerable. Dan Potts had wasted a headed opportunity after rising high on 26 minutes while his team caused problems with their direct running. They turned the tie back upside down when Admiral Muskwe released Cornick behind a high Chelsea defensive line. The striker’s finish was marked by icy composure. He was clearly onside despite Chelsea’s protests, Sarr having been late stepping out.

Tuchel needed more from so many players. It had been grim pickings for Lukaku and Werner up until the midway point of the second half but everything changed quickly after the manager’s tactical tweak.

Werner had looked uncertain, his touch heavy. He had given the ball away an awful lot. But it came together for him when Loftus-Cheek, who excelled with the ball at this feet, especially when driving forward, played a long pass up the inside left channel. This time, Werner’s control was excellent and the finish, body opened up for the sidefoot, was true. Moments later, Werner turned provider and Lukaku was the grateful beneficiary. Luton had nothing left. – Guardian

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