Sunderland arrived in London fearing the worst yesterday. Within 34 minutes of their game at Stamford Bridge, they knew they would have a lot more to fear than just fear itself.>
By the end of a damp day in London, Chelsea were looking like champions. Two goals for Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard and four others shared between Florent Malouda, the superb Ashley Cole and Michael Ballack devastated Steve Bruce's side and maybe Bruce's old manager too.
Chelsea looked as if they had decided to announce their first league game of the new year with the declaration that there would be no more messing about.
"This was an important test for us," Carlo Ancelotti said afterwards. "Without our African players, we could have some problems but I always knew we had a good squad."
Chelsea did not miss Didier Drogba yesterday, not with Nicolas Anelka as destructive and direct as he was and the players around him as positive and dynamic.
Sunderland were overrun. History was against them -- when Bolo Zenden scored to make it 5-1 in the second half-it was the first Sunderland goal at Stamford Bridge for nearly nine years -- but, more importantly, their form was against them. Without key players such as Andy Reid, Michael Turner and Lee Cattermole, a game at Stamford Bridge was always going to be an unwelcome trip. They could not have imagined how hostile.
"We simply couldn't cope, all over the pitch," Bruce said afterwards. "Defensively, we were inept. It's very difficult to come here with all your players, we had eight players injured or suspended. I'm not looking for excuses, we simply weren't good enough. Every time they went forward they looked like scoring, it was too easy."
Without those players, the young Cork midfielder David Meyler got another start. Sunderland insiders describe Meyler as "fearless, raw and eager", but all of those attributes were probably altered by yesterday's experience.
This was no place for the young, whatever about the fearless. Chelsea were on the front foot from the opening minute and even in this rout there were glimpses of the defensive problems that made attack a necessity.
Anelka opened the scoring when he broke the Sunderland offside trap with ease from a Ballack pass. It was not the first signal that Sunderland would make things easy as Joe Cole should have opened the scoring moments earlier.
Anelka was more assured, going round Marton Fulop and finishing as calmly as you would expect.
Sunderland briefly rallied, cutting through the Chelsea defence before the ball was booted away but within 10 minutes, the game was over.
Malouda has been looking to play more often but he hasn't scored too many goals like Chelsea's second. He picked the ball up just inside the Sunderland half, ran at the defence and then slotted the ball past Fulop with his right foot.
Chelsea were all prepared to be heroes. Ashley Cole was playing with the abandon of his Arsenal years before they soured him with an insulting contract offer. Yesterday he seemed happy, especially as Sunderland continued to ignore his runs during an immense first half, before he was withdrawn with an ankle injury.
His goal was superb. When John Terry launched a hopeful ball over the Sunderland defence, nobody dealt with it.
Ashley Cole did, controlling the ball with one touch, taking it around Lorik Cana with his second and poking it in with his third. Chelsea fans amused themselves by calling for Rafael Benitez to stay as Liverpool manager and they were seeing the big picture with the day's work done.
The team were more resolute, getting a fourth before half-time when Lampard finished from an Ashley Cole cross.
Sunderland had been battered at Stamford Bridge last season, with Roy Keane sent off. The only consolation for their players yesterday was that they wouldn't have to face their former manager.
The most genial manager would have been deranged yesterday. Within six minutes of the second half, Chelsea had a fifth when Joe Cole crossed for Ballack to head in. Zenden drove one in for Sunderland before Anelka got a sixth.
Anelka would have had a hat-trick except for a couple of outstanding saves from Fulop. The first touching a long-range shot onto the woodwork and the second from six yards when Anelka was sure he'd scored.
Lampard appeared to end things with Chelsea's seventh but Darren Bent tapped in a second for Sunderland. "They are the team to beat," Bruce added, "they have the strength in depth."
Ancelotti, meanwhile, was revealing his secrets. Had he let the players have a glass of wine beforehand, as Roberto Mancini says he will do at Manchester City? "I let them have two," he said with a smile. He may have set a dangerous precedent.