Christmas cracker as Chelsea maul Aston Villa
Aston Villa 0
What a timely return to lavish home comfort this was for Chelsea. After the trauma of their autumn, this gluttonous win was precisely what they wanted for Christmas.
There was a real sense of homecoming at Stamford Bridge last night, and not just because – owing to the Club World Cup – this was their first Premier League game for more than a fortnight. With this big victory, it felt as if the old riotous abundance, the ease, the confidence and the success which used to define Chelsea's home league games had returned, in greater portions than almost ever before.
This was the biggest league win since Chelsea beat Wigan by the same scoreline in May, 2010. And, like any festive binge, it was almost an uncomfortable experience at the end. There was no prospect whatsoever of any Christmas charity as Villa looked callow and out of place and were handed a heavy defeat.
Chelsea were once formidable at Stamford Bridge. They were unbeaten here in the league between February 2004 and October 2008. But that had slipped in recent years. Yesterday's rout was a throwback.
The opening goal of eight, from Fernando Torres, was Chelsea's first here in the Premier League since a 1-1 draw with Liverpool six weeks ago. This, bizarrely, was their first home league win for 11 weeks, when they beat Norwich City 4-1 with 10 games of Roberto Di Matteo's reign left to run.
There were the customary chants for Di Matteo yesterday, but none of "We want our Chelsea back" – that wish having seemingly been fulfilled on the pitch. It barely seems worth noting that this was the best performance of the Rafael Benitez era.
In the first half it was clinical and efficient, the three goals all gifted by Paul Lambert's young and inexperienced side. But Chelsea, with weeks of frustration within them, punished Villa in the second half.
Rather than preserving their energy ahead of a busy Christmas programme, Chelsea – inspired by the substitutes Ramires, Oscar and Lucas Piazon – scored four in the final 15 minutes, and even found time to miss a penalty kick too.
The imbalance between the teams was clear after two minutes. Cesar Azpilicueta swung in a cross from the right. Ciaran Clark and Chris Herd each thought that Torres belonged to the other. Torres ran through, jumped and headed the ball perfectly beyond Brad Guzan into the far top corner.
The surprise, given what followed, is that Chelsea were not even playing particularly assertively in the first half. David Luiz and Frank Lampard were in midfield, but they were happy to allow Villa, purposeful but imprecise, to give them the ball back. At this stage Villa's main problems could be put down to over-enthusiasm.
Herd needlessly clattered into Eden Hazard from behind after 29 minutes. The free-kick was taken by Luiz who, with that instep whip, fired the ball over the wall, down and into the net. Benitez said on Friday that Luiz is more free to express himself from midfield and this was the peak of an afternoon of imaginative and technical excellence.
It was as well taken as the first goal, but was a chance that an experienced defence should not concede. And so was the third goal, five minutes later. Juan Mata's corner fell to Gary Cahill who spun and shot. Guzan saved and Branislav Ivanovic, unmarked, headed in.
Villa, at the interval, could look at one skewed Barry Bannan shot as the extent of their threat. They might have rearranged at half-time, but Lambert could not exactly bring in experienced defenders, having only 22-year-old Joe Bennett in that position on the bench.
So, there was no change, just more of the same. It might have worked, had Chelsea been in the mood for seasonal goodwill. But they certainly were not, and when Guzan had to save well from Lampard, Torres and Victor Moses at the start of the second half, it was clear this was going to get harder.
The fourth, the last before the deluge, came from Lampard. Chesting the ball down 25 yards from goal, he let it bounce twice before striking it perfectly into the far bottom corner. He was taken off two minutes later to the sound of the fans imploring the club to offer him a new contract.
Roman Abramovich, though, might just point to Chelsea's improvement after Lampard went off. It was the introduction of three Brazilian midfielders, Ramires, Oscar and Piazon, which brought the punishing next four goals.
Piazon, with his first touches in the Premier League, played in Ramires, who ran forward and scored Chelsea's fifth. Three minutes later, Piazon found Oscar, who was pulled over by Herd and got up to finish the resultant penalty.
Five minutes after that Oscar supplied Hazard, who shuffled into space and thundered the ball into the top corner.
There was still time for Piazon to win a penalty only to see it well saved by Guzan, who performed as nobly as any goalkeeper who concedes so many can.
But, in added time, the American let in the eighth, as Ramires exchanged passes with Oscar before finishing high and hard. (© Independent News Service)