In Yokohama earlier this month Rafael Benítez had broken away from talk of winning the Club World Cup to suggest this fixture was the match that could inspire a title challenge.
Beat Aston Villa and his players would "start building their confidence" and, with it, conviction. If his team bought into the theory, then their pursuit of the leaders is revived.
Villa, a team who had arrived at Stamford Bridge unbeaten in six games, were shredded with the panache of the latter weeks of Chelsea's Premier League success under Carlo Ancelotti two years ago. Chelsea were ruthless, their key players excelling with a trio duly allowed a breather before the end as thoughts drifted to Norwich on Boxing Day and a cluttered programme ahead.
The replacements merely dazzled in their stead, the goals plundered at will as Villa wilted. Such riotous victory will serve to spur on this side. Manchester United are still 11 points clear but Chelsea, risen from seventh back to third, boast a game in hand and an injection of form. They were irrepressible, an eight-goal margin hardly flattering.
This had felt like a formality from the moment, barely two minutes in, that Fernando Torres rose majestically to meet César Azpilicueta's whipped cross and thump a header from distance beyond the diving Brad Guzan. It was Chelsea's first league goal at home for over four hours – a reflection of recent toils – and the striker's sixth in five matches, but arguably his finest since joining the club. Torres still needs to produce such brilliance for this team on a major occasion, as the tournament in Japan proved, but confidence is clearly creeping back. This goal set the tone.
Villa were deflated by the early goal. At Anfield the previous weekend they had not been punished for a nervy start and, once settled, had imposed themselves impressively to maintain their flurry of form. Yet here they had been quickly punctured and recovery never felt likely. Paul Lambert's are such a youthful team and, when Chelsea stretched the play at pace, their back three felt too regularly exposed, with those on the bench just as inexperienced as the starters. Theirs is a long-term plan and there will be occasions as miserable as this to endure. Five goals had been shipped at Manchester City. They would allow seven different Chelsea players to register here.
Ciaran Clark, suddenly thrust up as a senior in this lineup, did well to block Juan Mata's drive but the respite was temporary. Chris Herd's foul on Eden Hazard just before the half-hour mark drew a free-kick from Phil Dowd that David Luiz curled gloriously beyond Guzan in front of a baying Shed. Villa were still teetering moments later when Gary Cahill controlled Frank Lampard's corner with his first touch and spat a shot goalwards with his second. Guzan did wonderfully well to react to that attempt but Branislav Ivanovic reacted quickest to nod in the rebound from the underside of the bar.
Chelsea were too streetwise for this opposition. While Lampard coaxed from the centre, David Luiz tore around at his side, the Brazilian repeating his impressive display in midfield from the victory against Monterrey in Japan. Many more performances like this and Benítez may have to shelve any plans to add to his midfield next month. Villa, for all their own enthusiasm, could not match David Luiz's effervescence.
Guzan stood alone at times, the American saving superbly from Mata and Azpilicueta, but he could not prevent humiliation. Lampard crunched his own reward from 20 yards. The locals, so dissonant in recent weeks, bellowed a chorus of "sign him up" while John Terry was awaiting the 34-year-old on the bench with a congratulatory hand slap when he was substituted, though those introduced in the latter stages had their own points to prove. There was Ramires's neat finish through Guzan's legs, a goal set up by Lucas Piazón's sublime first touch, a pass threaded between Joe Bennett and Nathan Baker.
Oscar, overlooked regularly in recent weeks, earned himself a penalty from Herd's pull down with the Brazilian belting the spot-kick emphatically into the top corner. Pizaón would see his own last-minute penalty brilliantly saved by Guzan – the young Brazilian having been fouled by Clark – but Chelsea hardly cared.
By then, Eden Hazard had twisted away from panicked Villa defenders, glanced up and thrashed a blistering shot across Guzan and high into the net. Ramires added his second goal and his team's eighth, in stoppage time. The visitors had been praying for the end for some time. Chelsea must hope this is merely the beginning.
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