Villa left battered and bewildered as Chelsea rediscover their old swagger
Chelsea 8 Aston Villa 0:Back in Yokohama, Rafael Benitez had broken away from talk of possibly winning the Club World Cup to suggest this fixture could inspire a title challenge. Beat Aston Villa with a hint of pizzazz and his players would “start building their confidence” and, with it, conviction. To have thrashed that opposition out of sight presumably confirms the pursuit of the league leadership is well and truly revived.
This was a slaughter to send shock waves up and down the division. Villa may be wide-eyed and vulnerable but they had arrived unbeaten in six games and still ended shredded, Chelsea having mustered a performance brimming with all the panache that typified the latter weeks of their last Premier League title success.
I n charge
Carlo Ancelotti had been in charge when these opponents and Stoke had been dispatched to the tune of seven goals, and Wigan whipped on the final day by eight. Benitez’s team missed a penalty when the score was 7-0, the overworked Brad Guzan somehow denying Luxas Piazon. But this was Villa’s heaviest defeat.
There may be mild surprise that it is a Benitez side who have registered 22 goals in four domestic matches – particularly given how blunt his players had appeared in those goalless stalemates with Manchester City and Fulham upon his appointment – but this team can click.
The interim first-team manager could haul a trio of key players from the fray relatively early with one eye on the cluttered programme to come. Their replacements merely dazzled in their stead, with four goals plundered and the spot-kick missed in the last 15 minutes.
Manchester United remain 11 points clear but Chelsea, back to third, boast a game in hand and a timely injection of form.
“You can see the team are improving, and I’m sure the race will be closer. We can still improve and I say that after winning by eight . . . But now we have to sustain this run. If we do, it will be easier to say we can compete.”
They benefited from Villa’s fragility, their three-man defence bypassed in the opening exchanges.
This was a mismatch from the moment Cesar Azpilicueta’s fine whipped cross and Fernando Torres’s thumping header from distance set the tone.
The striker now boasts seven goals in six matches, with this arguably his finest since joining the club. A lack of confidence is less of a problem these days. Torres’s bite is back.
Once punctured early, recovery never felt likely for Villa. They never coped with Chelsea’s slippery pace down the flanks, where Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata interchanged with such relish, and Lucas Piazon and Oscar later joined in the fun.
Chelsea were irrepressible. David Luiz, relishing his second outing in central midfield, curled a glorious free-kick beyond Guzan just before the half-hour mark to double the lead.
Five minutes later Villa were still teetering when Guzan did wonderfully well to react to Cahill’s instinctive attempt, but Branislav Ivanovic reacted quickest to nod in the rebound.
Lampard’s own reward was a volley from 20 yards, his 130th top-flight goal for Chelsea to eclipse Bobby Tambling’s record. The irony was his departure moments later actually prompted the avalanche.
Villa withered away. Ramires, set up by Piazon’s sublime first involvement finished through Guzan’s legs and later side-footed in the eighth. Oscar won and then converted a penalty before Hazard twisting away from two panicked Villa defenders before thrashing a blistering shot into the top corner to complete the rout.