Chelsea 3-0 Luton (Sterling 17′, 68′, Jackson 75′)
STAMFORD BRIDGE — After promising performances but no victories in their first two matches, Chelsea are up and running under Mauricio Pochettino.
Two goals from Raheem Sterling and another from Nicolas Jackson were enough to see off a spirited Luton Town at Stamford Bridge on an evening that both Pochettino and Rob Edwards will take encouragement from.
Silver linings can be gleaned from the darkest of clouds, and the obvious one from Chelsea’s defeat in east London last weekend was Sterling’s electric performance; West Ham’s players were so impressed that they nicknamed the winger “Sonic” in the dressing room on account of his daring driving runs.
The Raheem Renaissance gathered further momentum at Stamford Bridge. Sterling had already given an indication of his intentions in the opening stages, smashing a volley unapologetically into Thomas Kaminski’s ribs in the opening five minutes, before scoring with his second attempt, sensationally keeping his balance while ducking and weaving in between perplexed Luton defenders like a slalom skier.
Malo Gusto, the 20-year-old Frenchman filling in for the injured Reece James, technically registered his first Premier League assist for Sterling’s opener with the simplest of passes into his feet. His second for Sterling’s second was far more deliberate, a measured cross the likes of which James has mastered, that the winger swept home with aplomb.
Given James’ fitness issues over the past 18 months, unearthing a worthy alternative is very useful indeed, particularly given Pochettino’s reputation for developing wing-backs into attacking weapons. Maybe there is method to Chelsea’s manic spending after all.
After scoring Chelsea’s first two, Sterling graciously set up the third with a precision cross drilled with the laces for Jackson to nudge into the corner for his first goal for the club.
The Senegalese played better against Liverpool and West Ham than he did here, but the goal was all-important, evidenced by the wide smile etched across his face.
In financial terms, this was one of the biggest mismatches in Premier League history. Luton have never spent more than £10m on a player; Chelsea have done so on 23 since Todd Boehly took charge 15 months ago. Moises Caicedo, English football’s most expensive player ever, was handed his first start.
But such has been the relentless churn of personnel in that period that Chelsea are still the most expensively assembled work in progress in football history. It’s indicative of the staggering turnover of talent that only one member of Chelsea’s 20-man squad that faced Luton in the FA Cup 17 months ago played at Stamford Bridge on Friday night; Ross Barkley, in a Luton shirt.
For long periods, it didn’t look uneven. Chelsea led by one goal for 53 minutes but a combination of their own profligacy and Luton’s enthusiasm ensured an intriguing contest, albeit one that the hosts largely controlled.
Chelsea zipped the ball around like a £900m squad should do but for a time it looked as though their lack of ruthlessness would prove their undoing once again. Ben Chilwell went into video game glitch mode when he tried to tee up Sterling despite galloping through on goal and an early second half flurry failed to yield a second goal, with Jackson forcing a save and Fernandez hitting a post.
Luton gained confidence from their wastefulness. A deflected Ryan Giles shot looked to be wobbling in before Robert Sanchez dealt with it like a cat pawing at a ball on a string. Even a rejuvenated Sterling fluffed his lines comically after being released by Jackson.
But then Sterling struck to kickstart a potentially fruitful new era in west London. Bigger tests will follow, but after a run of just one league win in 14 pre-Luton, Chelsea at last have something to build on.