Thomas Tuchel’s side took to the Kenilworth Road pitch for the fifth round tie with their heads still spinning from Abramovich’s bombshell announcement. The Russian billionaire has decided to sell Chelsea amid fears he could be sanctioned by the British government amid his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich, who is alleged to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, will give the net proceeds from the sale to victims of the Ukraine war. After his massive investment helped Chelsea win 19 major trophies in his 19-year reign, Abramovich admitted it had been “incredibly difficult” to give up the keys to Chelsea.
Fittingly, it was Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku who completed Chelsea’s escape act on the day the Abramovich era entered its final chapter. Chelsea twice trailed against second-tier Luton before Lukaku bagged the winner in the closing stages to spare their blushes. Abramovich sanctioned the club record £97 million deal that brought Lukaku from Inter Milan last year in the final blockbuster transfer of his reign.
Asked about the sale, Tuchel admitted he hoped nothing would change in terms of the day to day running of the club. “We heard the rumours. We are not living on an island. Of course we have team meetings and the guys spoke about it,” he said in his post-match BBC interview. “It is big news. Let’s wait and see. I think every decision he takes is the right decision. It is his decision, it’s his club. Hopefully it will not mean too much in the short term and nothing much will change. We will try to cancel the noise and stay focused, which is not always easy. We showed we can do that.”
It was a much-needed victory for Chelsea after their agonising penalty shoot-out defeat in the League Cup final against Liverpool at Wembley on Sunday. But it was Abramovich’s seismic decision to sell up that hogged the attention at tiny Kenilworth Road. Chelsea’s travelling fans sang Abramovich’s name when news of the impending sale filtered through before kick-off.
Chants of ‘we’ve won it all’ prompted an acerbic response from Luton supporters who sang ‘you bought it all‘ in reponse to the millions invested by Abramovich in star signings. Chelsea conceded a shock goal in the second minute as Reece Burke rose above Malang Sarr to glance his header past Kepa Arrizabalaga. Tuchel’s side hit back in the 27th minute when Saul Niguez scored for the first time since his August loan move from Atletico Madrid. The much-maligned Spanish midfielder drilled a composed finish from the edge of the area after Timo Werner started an incisive counter-attack.
Sarr was at fault again in the 40th minute when he tried in vain to play offside and Harry Cornick sprinted onto Carlos Mendes Gomes’ pass to net Luton’s second goal. Out of sorts for much of the second half, Chelsea snatched an equaliser in the 68th minute when Werner controlled Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s superb high pass and slotted home for his first goal in eight games. Lukaku has yet to repay much of that mammoth fee but he bagged his 11th goal of the season as he stretched to tap in Werner’s cross in the 78th minute.
Southampton eased into the quarter-finals with a 3-1 win against West Ham at St Mary’s. Romain Perraud produced a moment of magic to break the deadlock in the 31st minute as the French defender blasted a 25-yard drive into the top corner. West Ham equalised through Michail Antonio on the hour as the striker poked home after Willy Caballero dropped a corner.
James Ward-Prowse restored Southampton’s lead with a 69th minute penalty after Craig Dawson fouled Armando Broja, who wrapped up the victory with a stoppage-time strike.