Lukaku seals FA Cup win on seismic day for Chelsea
LUTON, England: On a seismic day in the history of Chelsea Football Club it was perhaps fitting that Romelu Lukaku, their record signing, scored the winning goal in a 3-2 FA Cup fifth-round victory at second-tier Luton Town on Wednesday (Mar 2).
For most of a damp evening at Kenilworth Road it seemed the European and world champions were going to suffer a humiliating exit, hours after Russian businessman Roman Abramovich announced he was putting the club up for sale.
But Lukaku, the epitome of Chelsea’s spending power in the 19 years of Abramovich ownership, slid in to convert Timo Werner’s low cross in the 78th minute.
News of Abramovich’s decision, amid growing calls for him to be hit by sanctions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, had the packed crowd abuzz before kickoff.
The Chelsea fans chanting his name were silenced after two minutes when Luton defender Reece Burke planted a textbook glancing header into the corner from a corner.
Saul Niguez levelled after 27 minutes but an intrepid Luton side restored their lead before halftime as Harry Cornick beat Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Luton looked capable of holding on for a giant-killing but Werner equalised in the 67th minute after being picked out by a lofted pass from Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Chelsea dominated the second half and Lukaku, out of favour of late despite his near 100 million-pound ($134 million) price tag, had the final say as the London side rebounded from losing Sunday’s League Cup final to move into the last eight.
Luton’s squad has a combined value of less than £20 million, according to website transfermarkt, compared to Chelsea’s near one billion and Chelsea’s three scorers alone were signed for a total of around £160 million.
Lukaku was bought twice with Abramovich’s money. He was sold for £28 million to Everton in 2014 and bought back for more than three times that figure.
Such eye-watering figures are why Abramovich’s announcement on Wednesday sent shockwaves through English football.
Manager Thomas Tuchel, who just over a year ago became the 11th full-time manager in the Abramovich era, said he had found out the news not long before the kickoff.
“We heard the rumours throughout the day and the TV is on in the hotel and the guys talk about it, so yeah it is big news,” the German told the BBC.
Asked if it was the right decision, Tuchel added: “I think every decision he takes is the right decision. It’s his choice, it’s his club, and it’s not on me to comment.”
Despite all the distractions, the game itself was a classic Cup tie with Luton, a club on the up again after tough times, giving Chelsea a mighty scare.