Skip to content

Chelsea 3-0 Luton Town: Forgotten man Raheem Sterling gives Mauricio Pochettino era lift off

Raheem Sterling scored twice to continue his fine start to the Premier League season as Chelsea overcame early nerves to beat Luton 3-0 at Stamford Bridge; Sterling admitted he had taken time to settle at Chelsea as he needed to rediscover his love of the game

Sterling looks a refocused, re-energised player
Image: Raheem Sterling looks a refocused, re-energised player

According to figures released by Deloitte on Friday, Premier League clubs have spent a fraction under £2bn in this summer’s transfer window already – with a week of business still to go.

Unsurprisingly, it is Chelsea who have been the biggest spenders. In the last three windows - since a consortium led by American businessman Todd Boehly took charge of the club - it is believed to be edging close to the £1bn mark.

Chelsea remain in the market for a right winger having missed out on Michael Olise, but it could well be they already have the solution within their ranks.

The first signing of the Clearlake Capital era was Raheem Sterling, bought for £47.5m from Manchester City. But soon afterwards, manager Thomas Tuchel became irritated and that strained relationship with his new employers never improved.

For Sterling, it was a far from ideal start to his new chapter following six trophy-laden seasons working under Pep Guardiola. The longer last season went on, the more it appeared City had cashed in at the right time on an asset whose best years were behind him.

Raheem Sterling shone for Chelsea against Luton
Image: Sterling shone for Chelsea against Luton

Across four different head coaches in the Chelsea dug-out, it was Sterling's 'annus horribilis' back in west London. Under Tuchel, Graham Potter, Bruno Saltor and Frank Lampard, a failure of fitness and form yielded his worst attacking returns in a decade.

In Qatar, he left England's World Cup camp after fears over the safety of his family after he reported a burglary at his Surrey home.

Also See:

He would return in time for England's quarter-final defeat by France but was subsequently left out of England's squad for their wins over Ukraine and Italy in March.

When he was overlooked again for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia in June, it came as no surprise.

Sterling needs to re-establish himself as a leading figure for club and country
Image: Sterling needs to re-establish himself as a leading figure

A representative of Sterling said of his omission: "Following a private conversation between coach and player, a mutual decision has been made for Raheem Sterling to sit out the upcoming internationals, focusing instead on recuperating his body in preparation for the upcoming season."

Southgate said after naming his squad: "I spoke with him a week or so ago, a general catch-up; he's not happy physically with his condition, he's been carrying a hamstring problem. He really wasn't in consideration. He doesn't think he's operating at the level he needs."

But, at 28, Sterling should only now be entering his prime - and the early signs under Mauricio Pochettino are promising.

Sterling is keen to reassert his worth to his critics
Image: Sterling is keen to reassert his worth to his critics

"Raheem deserves his credit, not our credit," Pochettino said on the eve of the game. In the 3-1 defeat to West Ham, Sterling produced arguably his best game in a Chelsea shirt.

Having scored nine times in 38 appearances for Chelsea in all competitions last season, he shone through the mist of a Chelsea display that lost its way.

He reminded everyone he is still a force at Premier League level - his approach play, movement and dribbling made him almost unplayable at times.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Raheem Sterling weaves through the Luton defence for an incredible opening opening goal

Sterling had the most touches, successful dribbles, passes in the final third and successful duels in any of his 30 Premier League appearances for Chelsea as he looked at home playing down the right of the front three.

Chelsea's inexplicable failure to bring in a capable No 9 was a big reason behind Sterling's struggles. Averaging just a goal a game in the Premier League last season, addressing that over the summer has been a priority - but Christopher Nkunku has been ruled out for a few months while Nicolas Jackson is still adapting to the Premier League.

Against Luton, Sterling was a force of nature.

Raheem Sterling is congratulated by Mauricio Pochettino

"Mindset-wise I came (to Chelsea) at a difficult period," he told Sky Sports after Chelsea's 3-0 win. "The most important thing is I've had a look at myself and I want to get back to being obsessed with football, it's as simple as that.

"I said (to myself); 'A lot's happened in your career, you've got a new challenge'.

"Your head can be a bit blurry and sometimes you need that clear vision. My love for football is too much, for me at this age of 28, to fizzle out."

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Chelsea and Luton

Reflecting on his time at Chelsea over the summer, the player himself acknowledged he had to look within for reasons behind his decline.

No stone was left unturned, with his food intake even viewed as a contributory factor.

"At the end of last season, I changed a bit of my diet and went to do something a bit different to what I have done before," he said. "I am eating a little bit less.

"Pre-season is a good time to get the body right and I am in a great place."

It is unsurprising that it only now that we are seeing the best of him again. Such has been the turnover of players since the player's debut at the start of last season, just three starters from the opening-day win over Everton remain at the club - Thiago Silva, Reece James and Ben Chilwell.

Did you know?

Raheem Sterling has been directly involved in 18 goals in his last 17 Premier League appearances against promoted teams (14 goals, four assists), including seven goals in the six appearances in this run as a Chelsea player.

But it was his positive body-language along with his dribbles which suggests a consistency is returning.

This is a young Chelsea squad that has been ravaged by injuries to nine first-team players in these early weeks of the season.

The onus, therefore, is on senior members such as Sterling to make full use of the kind run of fixtures which started on Friday. Nottingham Forest are next at Stamford Bridge before a trip to Bournemouth.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Raheem Sterling smoothly slides in a second for Chelsea against Luton

Scoring goals appeared to be yet again the main issue in the opening two games against Liverpool and West Ham, with Axel Disasi and midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka on the scoresheet.

The objective is for Chelsea to make a sustained push for a European finish, and so frittering away points on a Friday night against Luton, however early in the Pochettino rebuild, would have been inexcusable.

Across his time at Liverpool and City, Sterling reached double figures for goals for nine straight seasons, even hitting 30 for City during the 2019/20 campaign. It is a feat no Chelsea player has achieved since Didier Drogba.

Against Luton, Sterling reminded onlookers of just how devastating he can be. His first was trademark Raheem Sterling, his twinkle toes proving too quick for Ryan Giles and his finish was precise.

But he wasn't content with ending his night there, having earlier been denied twice.

Jamie Carragher on Sterling

"It's always been a criticism of Raheem that he's not a great finisher and he doesn’t strike the ball really well.

"But at Manchester City - at one time - there was only Lionel Messi that had scored more goals for Pep Guardiola than Sterling. He’s been a great player. Not every player delivers when going to a big club but he did at Man City.

"He was England's best player in the European Championships. But last season was a nothing season.

"Now he has the bit between his teeth. When he came up against Mauricio Pochettino’s teams he’d always make penetrative runs in behind and that’s what we’re seeing now. There is more to come too."

That Chilwell was determined to set up his team-mate for a second in some ways revealed his likeability in this group, so willing was the full-back to pass a possible goal on to a player who will be judged more by his attacking output this season.

There was a tenacity to his play to force the initial error from Amari'i Bell which led to his second goal to end the game as a contest.

Having scored twice, there was still time for Sterling to cap his night with an assist for Jackson, and his combination work with Malo Gusto on the right flank was a feature throughout the game.

Gary Neville on Sterling's position

"His starting position for Chelsea is different meaning he’s in the pockets so he’s playing deeper.

"At City he was arriving at the back post to score goals and I’m not seeing that at Chelsea. What he has to do is get into dangerous positions when the ball is on the opposite side like all great wingers do with great intent."

With no European football, Chelsea fans will hope for significant improvement on the 12th-place finish the new owners presided over last season which saw the Blues' lowest points tally (44) since 1987-88 (42), when they were relegated.

"Our vision as owners is clear: We want to make the fans proud," Boehly said in a statement when confirming his arrival back in May 2022.

It is fair to say their aim remains a work in progress. But if forgotten man Sterling can continue his return to form, Chelsea may have just the man to achieve that objective.

Neville: Sterling remains a force

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

The Friday Night Panel discuss the reasons behind Raheem Sterling's improvement in form for Chelsea this season.

Sky Sports Gary Neville:

"Raheem Sterling is at his best when driving at defenders one-on-one or arriving in the box and getting in where it hurts - that's where Pep Guardiola changed his game.

"Tonight, he got into positions to win a game for his team and that's the difference. I never thought he was at his best in the pockets or with his back to goal - he's not Phil Foden. He's a player who plays on the last line.

Raheem Sterling's heatmap against Luton

"It sounds like he's had that moment in the last 12 months where after playing at the very top for a long time he's had a little dip and thinking whether he's reached his peak. Playing under Pep Guardiola's demands every single day to playing in a team that threw the towel in, he probably was thinking 'is this what I want?' He had to look in the mirror.

"He has to show his team-mates now that he's the player that has won all the titles, played at major tournaments. It sounds like he had a moment where he had to become a force in that dressing room as he's come back a different player."

Sterling: I've taken a look at myself

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Raheem Sterling tells the FNF team about last season's frustrations and goes through his goals against Luton.

Raheem Sterling speaking to Sky Sports:

"I had a bit of frustration last season I was always coming with my back to goal, a bit deep, and wasn't given a chance to get towards the box. I had a conversation with the manager last week and we've gone through the role - and I know what he wants from me, getting in on the back post, driving at players - that's when I'm most effective.

"I came here in a difficult period, excuses, that's all in the past. I've taken a look at myself and I'm a person that analyses, what went wrong, what I can change. I want to get back being obsessed with football - simple as that. Football 24/7, scoring and assisting goals.

"In the first game against Liverpool, I was inside the pocket a bit too much and that was my feeling last season when I was too deep playing balls with the full backs. We had a simple conservation and he said 'Raheem it doesn't matter where you play - as long as you apply it, are dynamic, then no-one can stop you, just be aggressive with the ball'. I've got the desire and hunger to do that.

"A lot has happened in my career. I came into a new challenge and it was difficult. My head could be a bit blurry - sometimes you need to have a clear vision to see what you want. My love for football is too strong for it to fizzle out and I want to make sure I'm maintaining those standards."

What's next?

Live FNF

Chelsea have two home games next week, hosting League Two side AFC Wimbledon in the Carabao Cup second round on Tuesday night before welcoming Nottingham Forest to Stamford Bridge for their next Premier League game on September 2, kick-off 3pm.

Luton are also involved in Carabao Cup action in midweek, hosting Gillingham on Tuesday night. Attention will then urn to their first Premier League game at Kenilworth Road when the Hatters welcome West Ham on Friday Night Football on September 1, kick-off 8pm.

Win £1,000,000 with Super 6!
Win £1,000,000 with Super 6!

The £1,000,000 jackpot is still up for grabs with Super 6! Play for free, entries by 3pm Saturday August 26.

Around Sky