Raheem Sterling scored a brace as he inspired Chelsea in their convincing 3-0 Premier League win against newly-promoted Luton Town.
A game that had threatened to drift into familiar goal-shy territory for Mauricio Pochettino’s side came alive midway through the second half when Sterling swept home his second of the match, that after he had broken the deadlock in the 17th minute with a superb solo effort.
And goalscorer turned provider minutes later when he crossed for Nicolas Jackson to knock in his first Chelsea goal and hand the hosts their first three-goal victory in the league since beating Wolves last October.
Until that flourish, Rob Edwards’ side had inflicted familiar feelings of frustration on home fans who witnessed their team struggle to open up the top-flight newcomers, until Sterling’s brilliance finally helped them cement their dominance and hand Pochettino his first win in charge.
Chelsea’s first chance fell after just six minutes. Luton failed to clear decisively after a free-kick from the right, and coming onto the ball with a thunderous volley from 12 yards was Sterling. His drive was clean and true, but Thomas Kaminski was its equal with a superb piece of handling to cling on to the ball.
Moises Caicedo, fresh from conceding a penalty on his debut against West Ham, showed more jitters on his first home start when he allowed Tahith Chong to dispossess him inside his own half. The Luton winger left his opponent on the turf and raced away before arcing a shot wide of goal to spare the blushes of Chelsea’s record buy.
It had been an urgent if not wholly assured start by Chelsea. On 14 minutes, Ben Chilwell linked up well with Jackson to provide Enzo Fernandez with a sight of goal. The World Cup-winner’s shot was taken early with his instep, curling past the angle of post and bar.
The opening goal was all Sterling’s own work. Picking up the ball wide on the right from Malo Gusto’s pass, he drove in from the wing with purpose, darting into the box and cutting inside three defenders before sliding a fine left-footed finish past Kaminsky.
The second half sustained the pattern of Chelsea pressure. First, Ben Chilwell played a one-two with Jackson and went through on goal, only to pick the wrong option and look for a pass instead of taking the shot on. Then Jackson himself tried to beat Kaminski at the near post, a challenge the Luton goalkeeper stood up to well.
Caicedo’s inclusion had meant a more advanced role for Fernandez, and the Argentinian appeared determined to make amends for his costly penalty miss against West Ham. He was the next to go close, arriving at the back post to meet Sterling’s superb low ball into the box. Kaminski, increasingly exposed as the game wore on, beat the ball to safety.
But as long as Chelsea’s dominance failed to yield a second, Luton’s threat lingered. Their moment looked to have arrived on the hour mark. Carlton Morris held the ball up well inside the box and helped work the ball via Elijah Adebayo into the feet of Ryan Giles, whose driven effort looked destined to fizz beyond Robert Sanchez until Gusto’s heroic last-ditch block deflected it into the Chelsea goalkeeper’s arms.
Much of the hosts’ attacking play had suffered from attempts to overcomplicate, but there was nothing of that about their second. Gusto, a lively forward threat all night pushing up from wing-back, whipped the ball into the box low and with a cool sweep of the right boot Sterling guided the cross into the bottom corner to finally settle Chelsea’s nerves.
Stamford Bridge suddenly found its mood transformed, and within minutes it was three. Fernandez, looking settled now in his new role, sent a clever spinning ball up to Sterling, who was almost nonchalant as he pulled it out of the air and drilled it in for Jackson crash home his first goal in blue.
It was a stylish goal, the kind supporters were once used to in this part of west London. They will hope that a corner has finally been turned.