Abramovich’s money is once again making a difference for Chelsea, but with the club now up for sale, for how much longer?
LUTON, England — As it should be, Chelsea’s money finally made the difference. Confirmation that Roman Abramovich will sell the Blues came around an hour before the start of a game in which Luton Town threatened to show them how far they could go without the financial clout of their owner.
Twice the Championship side led, first through Reece Burke’s second-minute header, then again after Saul Niguez’s equalizer as Harry Cornick escaped to score a fine finish in front Kepa Arrizabalaga. The game swung in Chelsea’s favor in the second half, however, helped by substitutes Christian Pulisic, Harvey Vale and Reece James as debut Timo Werner scored before becoming Romelu Lukaku’s provider to bring the winner 12 minutes from time. end to secure a 3-2 victory.
Werner and Lukaku cost more than £150million in transfer fees, the latter signed last summer in a club-record deal that will now be seen as the final act of lavish spending under Abramovich who have totaled more than £2billion since he bought the west London outfit in 2003.
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Chelsea’s wealth has made them largely immune to FA Cup shocks. In Abramovich’s 19 years in charge, they have lost only twice to lower league opponents in this competition: a 4-2 loss to League One Bradford City in 2015 and a 2008 loss to Barnsley.
Amid uncertainty over their future ownership, Chelsea have rarely felt so vulnerable, and the majority of the 10,140 fans inside Kenilworth Road weren’t going to let them forget that. “You are sold in the morning,” chanted cheery Luton fans at a far end who had already erected a banner proclaiming this part of the ground the “World Champions section” in recognition of the Club World Cup triumph the month last.
Abramovich’s ownership highlighted the blurring of sports and politics.
Although he has repeatedly denied any connection to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the timing and haste of his decision to sell comes amid widespread condemnation from the Kremlin and anyone associated as their invasion of the Ukraine is reaching increasingly horrific proportions. The four corner flags were replaced with the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag as larger versions dotted the crowd and every chant of ‘Roman Abramovich’ from the defiant support outside was met with boos or worse.
“You dirty Russian bastard,” sang Luton fans. « We won everything, » replied the Chelsea winger. “You bought everything,” was the retort.
The good news for coach Thomas Tuchel is that it would historically be the sort of disappointing performance that would raise questions about a head coach’s long-term future given Abramovich’s willingness to do without managers in the game. pass. Instead, he faced another post-match inquisition centered on his employer’s future.
« It’s a bit too early for me to speak, » Tuchel said. « It’s great news but I can only think of Chelsea with Roman Abramovich. It’s very hard for me, I haven’t understood yet, it’s a huge change.
« We focused in our preparation only on the sport but maybe some players are more affected than others and in the end we managed to focus more and grow in the game before finding the key to winning it. .
“I don’t think I need to talk to the players about it. I am not the CEO. I am not a member of the board and I am very sure that the club will talk to us and to the players. I’m pretty sure someone from the board will speak to us to clarify the situation. »
Midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek started in an experimental position at centre-back in anticipation of dominating the ball, but what they gained in smarts in possession they lost in defensive stability without him. Loftus-Cheek showed the benefits of playing in this role, however, helping turn the tide, playing a superb sweeping pass for Werner to equalise.
Luton had made several changes themselves as they continued to have their eye on a Championship promotion push – they sit sixth – and Chelsea’s greatest resource and fitness was told as Lukaku spared their blushes . He was signed at great expense to settle bigger occasions than this, but right now sentimental Chelsea fans want Abramovich’s money stretched out any way they can.