Having fallen at the final hurdle in one domestic cup competition already this season, Chelsea will aim to take a step towards another Wembley outing when they take on Luton Town in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday.
While the Blues suffered penalty shootout heartache to Liverpool in the EFL Cup final at the weekend, Luton’s top-six Championship hopes were boosted with a narrow success over Derby County.
Luton Town playing in the Premier League is surely not something that many of their supporters could have ever envisaged, but their playoff destiny is now in their own hands after a sparkling run of form in England’s second tier.
Taking on a Derby County side with a desperate need for points of their own at the other end of the table, Nathan Jones’s side struck through substitute Danny Hylton in the 67th minute for a slender 1-0 win – one which was enough to see them displace Sheffield United in sixth spot.
As a result, Luton prepare to host Chelsea having won each of their last three in the second tier, and despite coming up against giant-killers Cambridge United in the fourth round of the FA Cup, the Hatters were in no mood to suffer an upset as they strolled to a 3-0 win.
A 4-0 win over Harrogate Town in round three also contributed to Luton’s best run in the FA Cup since the 2012-13 season – when they were dumped out by Millwall at this stage – and not since the 1993-94 tournament have the second-tier outfit managed to progress further.
Chelsea dumped them out in the semi-finals that year and also have recent experience in overcoming Jones’s men in the prestigious cup competition, but Luton have won six of their last seven at Kenilworth Road in all competitions and will be taking on a Chelsea side with several battle scars.
In a reversal of fortunes from the 2018-19 EFL Cup final, Thomas Tuchel did not think twice about bringing Kepa Arrizabalaga onto the field against Liverpool with penalties looming – in spite of Edouard Mendy enjoying an arguably flawless game over the course of 118 minutes.
It was a decision that ultimately backfired on the German coach – who witnessed his side spurn numerous gilt-edged opportunities and have three goals disallowed at Wembley – as Kepa blazed his spot kick over the bar in sudden death to hand Liverpool their record ninth EFL Cup crown.
While Kepa made all the headlines for the wrong reasons at Wembley, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount should have put the tie to bed for Chelsea in the first half, and the Blues will be more determined than ever to rectify their lack of ruthlessness at Kenilworth Road.
Defeat in the EFL Cup final ended a six-game winning run in all tournaments for the Blues, who needed extra time to get past Plymouth Argyle in the fourth round, but not since the 2014-15 season have the European champions been knocked out of the FA Cup by lower-league opposition.
Luton and Chelsea will be locking horns for the second tournament running this week, with Tammy Abraham scoring a hat-trick for the Blues in a 3-1 fourth-round win back in January 2021, but Frank Lampard’s tenure in the dugout came to an end not long afterwards.
Luton Town FA Cup form:
Luton Town form (all competitions):
Chelsea FA Cup form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):
We say: Luton Town 0-2 Chelsea
Luton ought to beware a wounded Chelsea seeking to lay down a marker at Kenilworth Road, but not many teams have experienced much joy on the Hatters’ turf since the turn of the year.
The Luton faithful’s hopes of an FA Cup upset are not unfounded by any means, but Tuchel surely cannot fathom any more domestic disappointments just yet, so we still expect the Blues to return to winning ways and book their spot in the quarter-finals