Chelsea eased a small measure of pressure on manager Frank Lampard with a 3-1 win over Luton Town in the FA Cup on Sunday.
The Blues took only 10 minutes to take the lead, Timo Werner running behind the defence to cuit the ball back for Tammy Abraham, who steered the ball into the far corner. The same player made it two just six minutes later, heading in after a clever Reece James cross from the right.
Luton pulled a goal back on the half-hour mark when poor goalkeeping from Kepa allowed Jordan Clarke’s finish to roll past him and in.
Chelsea dominated most of the play, as would be expected, but Harry Cornick had a great chance for an equaliser around the hour mark – only for Kepa to redeem himself with a decent save. And Abraham completed his treble with a tap-in after a great move down the left involving Callum Hudson-Odoi, before Timo Werner missed a late penalty.
Here are five things we took from the game at Stamford Bridge.
The Chelsea boss switched his line-up around, but several first-team regulars – if not guaranteed starters – were still in place.
And then there was Mason Mount.
He’s the undroppable for Lampard, the central cog who he appears to trust beyond all others in his squad, both for work rate and tactical versatility as much as for his technical level of ability.
The added bonus for the homegrown youngster this time was captaining the side he has been with since the age of six, the Blues’ youngest skipper in almost two decades. A proud moment and one which points to his own development as much as how much Lampard relies on him.
This wasn’t the type of game which the manager himself could take a ‘win’ from, even if his team could get the victory.
A cup game against a lower-league side isn’t ‘win or lose’ for an under-pressure boss, it’s ‘neutral or lose’.
Get a victory and nobody really cares to take too many positives, as it would be expected anyway. Lose, and the critics would pile on, using the result as further evidence as to uncertainty, a lack of leadership or the need for a change.
Lampard doesn’t need to worry about any of that this week after a very dominant performance – the next three games are far more key, against Wolves, Burnley and Spurs in the Premier League. Points and performance levels are critical.
There’s an intriguing battle for attacking spots at Stamford Bridge, such are the variety of options available, but the No. 9 spot in particular is a quirk because neither of the usual options, Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud, are big-money signings.
As such, they’re brought in and out according to need or form – so the England international did his future chances no harm here with a clinical hat-trick.
Two of the three were good finishing touches, two of the three showed good movement, one showed good strength – all were inside the box and the area he’d want to impact in more regularly.
Nathan Jones came back last year and saved the Hatters from relegation. This year, they seem to have no such worries in the Championship.
Luton are 13th, right in mid-table with almost as many wins as defeats and the big challenge is whether they can find consistency in results to push into the top half…and maybe beyond.
A play-off spot looks improbable, given the spending and strength of some teams above them, but nine points in the second tier can be won and lost very quickly and a month down the line they could be significantly closer to that improbable dream, or again needing a good run to ensure they don’t get dragged into the mix near the bottom.
They wouldn’t have expected a win in this game, but gave a good account of themselves and if they finish in the top half of the league it will count as a great overall campaign.
Chelsea, it should be remembered, were FA Cup finalists last season and are now into the fifth round for a sixth successive campaign.
They’ll feel there’s a big chance to reach the quarter-finals again, too, as they now face Barnsley in the next round – the Tykes are precisely two places and one point above Luton, so this was a reasonable example of the type of level they’ll face.
While the league form isn’t immaculate, cup runs can provide positivity and distraction – and there’s still the Champions League tie with Atletico Madrid to look forward to, as well.
For now it’s onwards to the fifth round and, meanwhile, looking to take confidence from this fixture into the clash with a Wolves team in woeful league form themselves.