It might be down to Mauricio Pochettino. It might be down to the player himself. What is for sure is Raheem Sterling has his mojo back and was the difference between Chelsea and Luton Town on Friday night.
Everyone knows it has been rough for Raheem Sterling at Chelsea. Everyone knows Chelsea lack a cutting edge in front of goal. Everyone basically knows the player and club have been a bit sh*t since the start of 2022/23.
After a horrendous campaign, Mauricio Pochettino was brought in to steady the ship, get the Blues back into the Champions League, and develop a largely inexperienced squad into a winning machine. The latter will obviously take a while, but Pochettino has a good record with young players: just look at Dele Alli at Tottenham, for example.
Chelsea and Pochettino are going to rely on some of the older players to lead this new era, that is for sure. An XI full of 19 to 23-year-olds is not going to end well, no matter how high the potential of each player is. Raheem Sterling appears to be that reliable, experienced head, in what is already proving to be a match made in heaven.
Sterling had his best game in a Chelsea shirt at West Ham last weekend. His direct, pacey play on the ball was a breath of fresh air for a player who has been deprived of confidence and either unwilling to express himself, or unable in a poor Blues team. The performance at the London Stadium was his best for the club for less than a week. He was fantastic against Luton, scoring what could end up being his most impressive goal of the season to get Chelsea ahead early on at Stamford Bridge.
It was important for Chelsea to start fast against a Luton side that was bound to be physical, rigid and an overall nuisance to play against. Thankfully for Pochettino, Sterling showed more of that direct play we enjoyed watching against West Ham, weaving in and out inside the penalty box as he kept his composure to slot the ball in the bottom corner with his left foot.
Luton would grow into the game but did not really threaten Robert Sanchez’s goal in the first half. Going into the break at 1-0 was a pretty decent position to be in for the Hatters, whose fans were absolutely loving life during their first match of the season at one of the so-called Premier League ‘big six’.
As the game dragged on with Chelsea putting in another all-bark, no-bite performance, there were nerves that Luton would score from a set-piece, counterattack, or nervy mistake in the hosts’ defensive third. Pochettino once again had Sterling to thank when he gave the Blues a nice cushion after 68 minutes.
Malo Gusto – who did not have a great game up until this point – found Sterling in space inside the 18-yard box and the England forward did the rest, sweeping home with his right foot as Stamford Bridge collectively blew a sigh of relief. It is always great as a writer when you want a certain narrative to happen and then boom…a player puts it on a plate for you. Bliss.
Sterling would further endear himself to Chelsea fans, Pochettino, and most importantly, myself, by creating Chelsea’s third, marking the first time since October 2022 that the Blues scored three or more in a Premier League game. Since that game against Wolves ten months ago, they have only managed to score two twice in the league, for what it’s worth. Sterling’s cross for Nicolas Jackson was fabulously directed into the path of his new teammate, who got his reward for another decent performance leading the line by poking home his first Blues goal.
There were a few moments that crept up some similar worries for Chelsea. Ben Chilwell had an indifferent evening, marauding into the box with a clear shot at goal at one point, only to bizarrely try and find a teammate. There was another moment when Moises Caicedo fell over the ball, which led to Luton’s first chance of the game. But it did not become one of those nights, thanks to a rejuvenated Sterling.
It’s fantastic to see what a genuinely top-class player can do under the right manager. People had doubted Sterling’s ability to turn things around at Stamford Bridge and it is pleasing to see a player who has proved doubters wrong throughout his entire career do so once again.
The 28-year-old is going to be a big player for Chelsea if the opening weeks of the season are anything to go by, and that is down to a combination of Pochettino’s man management, system, and the player’s hard work.