Winners last weekend without playing – when Manchester United and Arsenal both stumbled – Chelsea barely needed to turn up either yesterday to earn some real points. Sunderland's depleted squad, back from a warm-weather break in Algarve found the leaders far too hot and must have wished they had stayed where they were.
This was men against bairns, and the bairns were four down in 34 minutes as Steve Bruce's fears in sending out a team missing four centre-backs as well as key midfielders became reality.
For Chelsea the absence of four players at the African Cup of Nations merely offered others the chance to emphasise their quality: notably Juliano Belletti as the defensive midfielder, and Joe Cole, back in his old Jose Mourinho position on the right of a three-man attack. What never happened under Mourinho was a scoreline like this; in those days Chelsea tended to declare once they were a couple of goals to the good. Roman Abramovich has demanded something more and Carlo Ancelotti seems capable of delivering. The tempo was maintained until the end even when victory was assured.
"When we move the ball quickly there's not a team that can touch us," John Terry said. They managed to do so even on a wet pitch and much stronger sides than Sunderland would have struggled to contain them. "Maybe the best performance of the season," Ancelotti suggested.
Bruce acknowledged: "It's hard enough coming here with a full-strength team but with eight missing, they were too good for us all over the pitch. Defensively we were inept. Every time they went forward they looked as if they'd score." That was certainly the case in the first half, although to be fair to the makeshift pairing of Lorik Cana and Paulo da Silva, the goals were excellent ones.
For the first, the ball moved from Belletti to Michael Ballack and on to Nicolas Anelka for a calm finish. That was eight minutes in. Nine more and Florent Malouda turned cleverly away from one challenge just inside the Sunderland half, eluded another and kept going before shooting in with his weaker (right) foot. The adventurous Ashley Cole, who had been screaming for a pass on that occasion, was soon in on the act, scoring the third with less than a quarter of the game played. John Terry curled a pass forward for the England back, who took it down beautifully, slipped Cana's sliding lunge and chipped over Martin Fulop.
The goalkeeper did manage a save with his legs when Anelka went clear on him but within a minute the Frenchman offered Ashley Cole a cross that Frank Lampard slid in on the volley. Four-nil, 33 minutes gone; Bruce stood in the technical area with arms folded, then looked at his watch as if willing the hands to move more quickly towards five o'clock. Aiming at damage limitation in the second half, he made one change, replacing the ineffectual Steed Malbranque with the former Chelsea man Boudewijn Zenden. Ancelotti took off both Ashley Cole, who had a slight knock, and Terry but if the personnel changed, the pattern remained much the same.
Belletti won a tackle in midfield, allowing Joe Cole, in as much space as he could have wanted, to cross onto the head of the unmarked Ballack for a fifth goal. Sunderland, against all expectation, scored one themselves when Kenwyne Jones, an object of admiration for several other clubs, won a header from George McCartney's punt forward and the ball dropped nicely for Zenden to record his first goal for the club. Celebration was minimal, possibly not so much out of respect for former employers as for fear of reprisals. They duly arrived within eight minutes, Fulop's error in failing to deal with Yuri Zhirkov's cross from the left giving Anelka his tenth goal of the season. The striker is clearly not missing Didier Drogba.
Last season Anelka scored a hat-trick in Sunderland's 5-0 defeat here and there should have been a repeat, but, five yards out, he was denied by Fulop's foot. Joe Cole headed against a post from no further out before two more goals in the last couple of minutes. Lampard headed in an Anelka cross and Darren Bent unexpectedly had the last word with a tap-in.
Ancelotti may have said he was not concerned about sending a message to Chelsea's championship rivals, but this was an emphatic statement, weakened opposition or not.
Sunderland, with only one League win in a dozen games, since Bent's "beachball goal" against Liverpool in October, need some of those absentees back on parade.
Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the match: Anelka
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content