LUTON, England -- Appropriately enough, Chelsea's money made the difference in the end. Confirmation that Roman Abramovich will sell the Blues came around an hour before the start of a Wednesday match in which Luton Town threatened to show them just how far they could fall without their owner's financial clout.
Twice the Championship side led, first through Reece Burke's second-minute header and then again after Saul Niguez's equaliser as Harry Cornick raced clear to slot a cool finish past Kepa Arrizabalaga. The game swung in Chelsea's favour in the second half, though, aided by substitutes Christian Pulisic, Harvey Vale and Reece James as first Timo Werner scored before turning provider for Romelu Lukaku to slide home the winner 12 minutes from time to secure a 3-2 victory.
Werner and Lukaku cost more than £150 million combined in transfer fees, the latter signed last summer in a club-record deal that will now rank as the final act in the lavish spending under Abramovich that has totalled more than £2 billion since he bought the west London outfit in 2003.
Chelsea's wealth has made them largely impervious to FA Cup shocks. During Abramovich's 19-year tenure, only twice have they lost to lower-league opposition in this competition: a 4-2 defeat to League One Bradford City in 2015 and a 2008 reverse to Championship side Barnsley.
Against the backdrop of uncertainty over their future ownership, rarely have Chelsea felt as vulnerable as this, and the majority of the 10,140 fans inside Kenilworth Road were not going to let them forget it. "You're getting sold in the morning," chanted Luton's gleeful fans to an away end that had already erected a banner proclaiming that part of the ground the "Champions of the World section" in recognition of last month's Club World Cup triumph.
Abramovich's ownership brought into sharper focus the blurring of sport and politics.
Although he has repeatedly denied any links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the timing and haste of his decision to sell comes amid widespread condemnation of the Kremlin and anyone associated as their invasion of Ukraine expands. All four corner flags were changed to the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag while bigger versions were dotted around the crowd and every chant of "Roman Abramovich" from the defiant away support was greeted with boos or worse.
"You dirty Russian bastard," sang the Luton fans. "We've won it all," replied the Chelsea end. "You've bought it all," came the retort.
The good news for coach Thomas Tuchel is this would historically be the sort of underwhelming performance that would raise questions about a head coach's long-term future given Abramovich's readiness to dispense with managers in the past. Instead, he faced another postmatch inquisition centering on his employer's future.
"It's a bit too early for me to speak," Tuchel said. "It's big news but I can only think about Chelsea with Roman Abramovich. It's very hard for me, it did not sink in yet; this is a massive change.
"We focused in our preparation only on sports but maybe some players are more affected than others and in the end we managed to focus more and grow into the game before finding the key to win it.
"I don't think I need to talk about it to the players. I'm not the CEO. I'm not a member of the board and I'm very sure the club will speak to us and the players. I'm pretty sure some member of the board will talk to us to clarify the situation."
Midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek started in an experimental position at centre-back in anticipation of dominating the ball, but what the team gained in intelligence in possession they lost in defensive stability without it. Loftus-Cheek showed the benefits of playing in that role, however, in helping turn the tide, playing a superb raking pass for Werner to equalise.
Luton had made several changes themselves as they continue to have one eye on a promotion push from the Championship -- they lie in sixth place -- and Chelsea's greater resource and fitness told as Lukaku spared their blushes. He was signed at great expense to settle more important occasions than this, but right now sentimental Chelsea fans want Abramovich's money to stretch any way it can.