There are no paupers in the Premier League any more. The top flight makes princes of every one that it blesses with its broadcasting revenue. But it still felt as if Luton Town came in rags when they arrived in west London on Friday night to take their doomed tilt at the capital’s most profligate billionaires.
Luton, with their annual wage bill of £5m, compared to Chelsea’s yearly player earnings of £150m. Luton, whose squad cost £20m to put together. Chelsea, who have spent £278m on midfielders alone in the last seven months.
Luton, whose Kenilworth Road ground is a wonderful anachronism where the wooden floor boards in the main stand creak and rattle and shake when its team attacks. Chelsea, with its golden acres of Stamford Bridge real estate and executive boxes off the King’s Road.
Luton, who had several free transfers in their starting line-up on Friday night. Chelsea, who have broken the British transfer record twice in the past eight months, spent £900m in the last three windows and were giving Moises Caicedo, their £115m signing from Brighton, his home debut.
Luton, whose fans chanted ‘Conference champions, you’ll never sing that’ at their Chelsea counterparts in the opening minutes. Chelsea, who won the Champions League for the second time two years ago and who are consumed by the vaulting ambition to win it again.
Chelsea beat Luton Town 3-0 in their Premier League clash at home on Friday evening
Raheem Sterling was the star of the show – scoring two goals and registering an assist
He was named as the man of the match after his impressive performance at Stamford Bridge
Nicolas Jackson was another standout performer for Chelsea and scored their third goal
If it wasn’t the biggest financial mismatch in Premier League history, it must have been close. Neutrals everywhere were willing Luton to cause an upset and extend Chelsea’s winless streak at the start of the season to three matches. But it was not a night for fairy-tales.
It was a night instead when Chelsea’s 3-0 win provided more hints that Mauricio Pochettino was beginning to create at least a semblance of order from the chaos that has been bequeathed the club’s managers since Todd Boehly bought it from Roman Abramovich.
It was at least a first win of the season, a first competitive win at the club for Pochettino, and only their second in their last 17 matches in all competitions. They are starting from a low bar but even if this was still not a wholly convincing performance, it did represent progress.
It also provided more evidence of the rebirth of Raheem Sterling, who was, once again, the best player on the pitch, scored a goal in each half and made a third and played like the forward who was England’s best player at the last European Championships. His first goal was reminiscent of Ricky Villa’s slalom for Spurs in the 1981 FA Cup Final replay. It is good to see him in this kind of form again.
Sterling had attracted rave reviews for his performance in Chelsea’s defeat at West Ham last weekend and he nearly opened the scoring in the seventh minute when a Chelsea free kick was headed clear and looped lazily towards him as he stood on the edge of the area.
Sterling met it sweetly on the volley but it hurtled straight at Thomas Kaminski in the Luton goal. It knocked the goalkeeper backwards and off his feet but he managed to hang on to it. Sterling held his head in his hands.
Caicedo’s first contribution to his Chelsea career was inauspicious. He got the ball midway inside his own half, looked up, stumbled, fell over and let the ball run on to Tahith Chong. Chong danced inside a defender and took aim. To Caicedo’s relief, his shot flew wide.
Chelsea kept pressing for an opener. Nicolas Jackson broke forward and when the ball was laid back into the path of Enzo Fernandez, his fierce left foot drive kissed the top of the crossbar on the way over.
As a result, Mauricio Pochettino (centre) secured his first win as Chelsea’s manager
Ross Barkley returned to Stamford Bridge but it wasn’t the fairytale he was hoping for
Moises Caicedo had a chance early in the first half but slipped before going through on goal
Sterling had attracted rave reviews for his performance in Chelsea’s defeat at West Ham and he followed that up with two goals and an assist on Friday evening
It was clear a goal was coming and it was no surprise when it was Sterling who scored it. He had begun where he left off at the London Stadium. Seventeen minutes had gone when he got the ball on the right, danced between Ryan Giles and Ross Barkley, sidestepped Amari’i Bell and side-footed a left foot shot across Kaminski and into the bottom corner.
Luton, as expected, offered very little going forward. Even what appeared to be their best effort on goal, a near-post header from Barkley from a rare corner two minutes before half-time, turned out to have been nodded over by Ben Chilwell.
CHELSEA (3-4-2-1): Sanchez 7; Disasi 7, Silva 7.5, Colwill 7.5; Gusto 8, Fernandez 7.5, Caicedo 7, Chilwell 6.5 (Maatsen 86); Sterling 8.5 (Burstow 92), Gallagher 6.5; Jackson 7.5 (Ugochukwu 83).
Subs not used: Bergstrom, Beach, Cucurella, Madueke, Moreira, Humphreys.
Scorer: Sterling 17, 68, Jackson 75
Booked: Fernandez, Maatsen
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino 7.5
LUTON (3-5-2): Kaminski 6.5; Burke 7 (Andersen 77), Lockyer 6, Bell 6.5; Kabore 7 (Doughty 70, 5.5), Barkley 6 (Ruddock 77), Nakamba 6, Chong 6.5 (Ogbene 77), Giles 6.5; Morris 6.5, Adebayo 6.5 (Brown 70, 5).
Subs not used: Krul, Berry, Woodrow, Johnson
Booked: Lockyer, Nakamba, Brown
Manager: Rob Edwards 6
Referee: Robert Jones 6
The longer Chelsea went without adding to their lead, though, the more familiar concerns about their lack of ruthlessness and cohesion began to return to the fore and seep into the collective consciousness of the crowd.
Their unease in front of goal was underlined four minutes into the second half when Chilwell burst into the box and found himself ten yards out with only Kaminski to beat. To the exasperation of the fans, Chilwell hesitated and tried to pass the ball square to Sterling. It was promptly cleared by a Luton defender and the stadium groaned its disappointment.
Luton had opportunities but they did not have the quality to take advantage of them. Their final ball, in particular, was consistently wasteful. That did little to quell the growing restlessness in a stadium getting bored of waiting for its team to click.
The home side did come close to grabbing a second ten minutes after the interval when Sterling turned provider and slid the ball across the face of goal for Fernandez at the far post. Fernandez met it well but his shot cannoned off the outside of the post and away to safety.
Luton carved out their best chance of the game so far soon after that. The ball was worked cleverly across the face of the Chelsea box by Elijah Adebayo until it reached Giles unmarked just inside the area. Giles’ shot was on target but it was half-blocked by Malo Gusto and spun up into the air where it was claimed by Robert Sanchez.
It was end-to-end now but still Chelsea could not make the game safe. Sterling sprinted on to a lay off from Nicolas Jackson but his first touch took him wide and his shot dribbled wide of the far post. Cue more shouts of frustration from the Matthew Harding End.
They got their goal in the end, though. Inevitably, it was Sterling again. Caicedo, who had had a quiet game, played the ball out to the right, Gusto played it into the box and Sterling swept it home from near the penalty spot. Relief mixed with exultation at the Bridge.
Chelsea scored a superb third 15 minutes from time when Sterling ran on to a high ball over the top of the Luton defence down the right. Sterling let the ball drop and then drove it first time into the box. It took a slight deflection off a defender and that deflection diverted it perfectly into the path of Jackson who stretched out a foot to prod it past Kaminski.
Ben Chilwell had a chance in the second half of the game but decided to pass instead of shoot