It had been a relatively quiet season for Frank Lampard, until yesterday. With Chelsea needing a win to maintain the pressure at the top of the Premier League, he hammered in four goals as Carlo Ancelotti's side simply destroyed poor Villa.
Ancelotti, pilloried over Chelsea's meek Champions' League exit to Internazionale, took a gamble by leaving out top scorer Didier Drogba but now will head to Saturday's showdown with Manchester United at Old Trafford with his team riding the crest of a wave.
Drogba had limped off against Portsmouth in midweek with a knee injury and Ancelotti decided to keep his 30-goal man on the bench, only to be used in case of emergencies. The Ivorian was never needed and will be fresh for Old Trafford, but United must travel to Bayern Munich on Tuesday. Suddenly Chelsea look the team to beat once again.
In Drogba's absence, Lampard stepped up to fill the void. His four goals took his Chelsea tally to 151 and moved him above Roy Bentley and Peter Osgood to third place in the club's all-time scoring charts. His contribution in the past six seasons has been immense, and when they needed him again after the trials of recent weeks, he delivered once more.
Chelsea's assistant manager, Ray Wilkins, said: "He is a world-class player who is invaluable to us. We will go there [to Old Trafford] with utmost confidence." The mauling left Aston Villa's manager, Martin O'Neill, despondent and fearing the worst when the two sides meet again in the FA Cup semi-final in two weeks' time. "I feel as devastated as I have ever felt in the game," O'Neill said. "I have been in the game as a player and manager for some considerable time and you get taught a few lessons along the way, but that was as tough as any."
Asked how he considered Villa's chances of finishing fourth now, O'Neill quipped: "Fourth? On that performance we wouldn't finish 44th."
Chelsea took the lead after a quarter of an hour. Florent Malouda's attempted shot deflected off Richard Dunne and Lampard tapped in from close range. However, they have been vulnerable after going ahead and conceded an equal-iser 14 minutes later. Ashley Young cut in from the left wing and his misplaced shot was allowed to bounce all the way to John Carew, who scored at the far post.
Chelsea never found a real rhythm to their passing, only showing what they are capable of in flashes. One such moment led to their second goal, as Malouda and Yuri Zhirkov combined superbly before the Russian fell over a challenge from James Collins and the referee, Peter Walton, blew for a pen-alty. Lampard hit the resulting spot-kick with such venom that even though goalkeeper Brad Friedel dived the correct way, he had no chance of saving it.
The best move of the game earned Chelsea their third goal. Deco sliced apart the Villa defence with a stunning pass to Zhirkov on the overlap and he looked up and found Malouda, who scored on the volley.
Chelsea soon added a fourth, when the excellent Zhirkov was upended by Richard Dunne and Lampard scored his second penalty of the game. The Blues were flying now, and shortly after Paulo Ferreira had dashed down the right Lampard passed to Malouda, whose explosive shot almost ripped the net from its moorings.
The sixth came when Lampard's ball found Nicolas Anelka and the Frenchman, who has gone 11 games without a goal, opted not to have a go, passing to the substitute Salomon Kalou, who did.
The Premier League's top scorers, who notched five at Portsmouth on Wednesday night, made it 12 goals in three days when Malouda's cross ricocheted off Luke Young and Lampard scored the seventh, his 20th goal of the season.
Referee: Peter Walton
Man of the match: Lampard
Match rating: 9/10
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies