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Chelsea weathered a tumultuous evening off the pitch and an early Luton onslaught to twice come from behind and reach the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 3-2 fifth-round victory at Kenilworth Road.
Roman Abramovich confirmed his intention to sell Chelsea an hour before kick-off, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the seismic news unsettled Thomas Tuchel’s side, who were behind after 102 seconds as Reece Burke’s glancing header gave Luton the dream start.
Chelsea settled as the half progressed and deservedly drew level when Saul Niguez curled home a fine equaliser (27), but back roared Luton as Harry Cornick rounded off a brilliant team goal to restore the hosts’ lead five minutes before the break.
Tuchel sent his Chelsea players out for the second half early and, with instructions clearly still ringing in their ears, they responded as Timo Werner levelled the tie for the second time (68) before Romelu Lukaku’s 15th goal of the season (78) finally saw off Luton’s spirited challenge and booked a place in the last eight.
Chelsea’s extra power and nous eventually applied enough of a squeeze to subdue the Hatters and secure their passage through to round six, where the Blues will have their eyes on domestic cup success of a different kind after Sunday’s Carabao Cup final defeat against Liverpool.
Lukaku edges Chelsea past Luton
As kick-off fast approached in Luton, Abramovich released a statement which signalled the impending end of his near 20-year reign as owner at Stamford Bridge, and the uncertainty off the field permeated into Tuchel’s squad and onto the pitch.
- Dan Potts, Peter Kioso, Luke Berry, Carlos Mendes Gomes, and Admiral Muskwe returned as Luton made five changes from Saturday’s Championship win over Derby.
- Mason Mount and Antonio Rudiger were the only Chelsea players to retain their places as Thomas Tuchel made nine changes from Sunday’s Carabao Cup final defeat to Liverpool.
The makeshift Chelsea team looked distracted and disjointed from the off, and Luton made them pay almost immediately. Defender Burke headed home under little pressure from a corner where Chelsea’s marking left plenty to be desired.
Luton goalkeeper Jed Steer suffered a nasty-looking injury next, falling awkwardly on the turf under no contact from anyone else. The Aston Villa loanee was carried off on a stretcher after lengthy treatment, bringing youngster Harry Isted into the fray.
Saul clipped Chelsea level with the Blues’ first tangible attack, cantering on to strike home after Mason Mount had set Werner off and running. The Spain midfielder then had a fine chance to put Chelsea into the lead, but this time could not beat Isted, who stuck out a leg to divert his effort inches wide.
Saul’s equaliser should have seen Chelsea settle, but just when the visitors expected to take control Luton struck again. Cornick raced clear of the Chelsea cover and coolly slotted past Kepa Arrizabalaga, who delayed coming off his line just enough to hand the Luton striker the angle for the finish.
Luton continued to press but were eventually undone as Chelsea emptied their talented bench. Christian Pulisic and Reece James offered impetus and initiative, and Werner profited first when slotting past the on-rushing Isted.
Werner then turned provider again, cutting in off the right before drilling a low ball across the face of goal, allowing Lukaku to prod home and settle the tie.
Tuchel salutes Chelsea focus
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel: “It was difficult in terms of the circumstances, a huge difference, you come from Wembley, the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, and then we gave the players a well-deserved day off. Then you have one day to turn around your mind in a new challenge.
“We also had a lot of players out so more or less no more defensive players, and a completely new set-up and competition. There was some noise today around the club of course, so it was not so easy to focus but we did very well, I think.
“We conceded straight away but we had big chances to equalise, then go ahead. Then we conceded another one, the second half we stepped up and we pushed and were relentless but never impatient and we deserved to win. So full credit, we did not over-expect from us, and we played a very humble match, very seriously.”
Jones proud of Luton effort
Luton boss Nathan Jones: “They’re one of the biggest clubs in the world. They’re World Club champions, Champions League winners and they’ve had to work hard – very, very hard – for their win. And that’s the important thing for us, that we tested them.
“They have more quality than us, they have more resources than us, but I’m proud of the group, proud of the club, proud of how the supporters responded.”
Chelsea travel to Burnley in the Premier League and Luton visit Middlesbrough in the Championship on Saturday at 3pm.