In Pictures: Chelsea's Frank Lampard sends loud warning to title rivals
Chelsea 7 Aston Villa 1
Chelsea's demolition experts, led by a dynamic performance by four-goal Frank Lampard, were ruthless and almost cruel in their second-half display in which they scored six goals in little over half an hour.
Instead of taking their foot off the gas at 3-1 or 4-1, they pulverised the opposition to score seven goals for the second time this season. At least Abramovich was in the stands to witness this one, having missed the 7-2 thrashing of Sunderland in January.
No one could blame Chelsea for wanting to score as many goals as possible, as this season's title race is so close it could well be decided by goal difference, or even goals scored for that matter. Ancelotti has transformed Chelsea into the most free-scoring team in the top flight with 117 goals this season, 82 of which have come in the club's 32 league games. They recorded seven against Villa even though 30-goal striker Didier Drogba, who was nursing a slight knee injury, was left on the bench. But there is still a perception that, like all good school bullies, if someone stands up to them, they can quickly lose their nerve as Jose Mourinho's Internazionale demonstrated so graphically in their 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge just under two weeks ago. There were signs in the opening half an hour against Villa that Chelsea remain fragile under pressure. A sterner test will surely come at Manchester United this coming Saturday.
But how well they played once they had their tails up. Ancelotti opted for Nicolas Anelka in the middle and told Florent Malouda and Joe Cole to stay wide, to give Lampard more space in midfield. Lampard has been asked to play in a variety of positions this season as Ancelotti has tinkered with the formation, but this is the one in which he feels most comfortable, as his performance might suggest.
The first hour of the game was close, but Chelsea dominated the final third. The elegant Deco took control in midfield, Yuri Zhirkov started to resemble an £18m player, Malouda tore at Villa's defence with an insatiable appetite and Lampard's persistence was rewarded with four goals – two penalties and two close-range finishes – that took him past Peter Osgood and Roy Bentley into third place in the club's goalscoring records.
Afterwards, Lampard acknowledged that Chelsea now have to show they can "grind out" results, with Easter Saturday's trip to Old Trafford the next date on the calendar. "You can never please everyone all the time, but our fans want to win and we are here to get success for them," he said. "I don't think they are too bothered if we have to grind out results. In bad patches we have to, and that's what champions are made of, really.
"I have seen Man United grind out a lot of results at times. There's a certain middle ground. You want to play good football, but you need to have a fighting spirit to dig out results, and people will say that's why Arsenal haven't won anything for a few years."
If Chelsea go on to win the Premier League, and in their second-half thrashing of Aston Villa they looked every inch potential champions, they will have to send a case or two of the finest champagne to Portsmouth goalkeeper David James and the South Coast club's retired groundsman Bob Jones.
Chelsea had looked shaky after the 1-0 defeat to Inter was followed last weekend by a 1-1 draw at Blackburn. Lampard said the turning point had come on Wednesday night when James took an air shot to gift Chelsea the first goal in a 5-0 hammering.
"You can only go back to basics after results like that. You can only do the simple things right and wait for the turn, and I think Portsmouth, when David James missed, I think there was a big divot, was a bit of a turn, and we have kicked on from there," Lampard said. "And it's great, because having lost ground, and falling behind in the running when we should have been clear, it's great now to have a confident outlook on it, and take that to Man United next week."
Chelsea scored first through Lampard, before John Carew arrived in the Chelsea six-yard box to put Villa level. James Collins' foul on Zhirkov allowed Lampard to restore the advantage from the penalty spot, and Malouda's volley made it three. Another Lampard penalty completed his hat-trick, before goals by Malouda, Salomon Kalou and Lampard again in stoppage time.
Villa manager Martin O'Neill conceded it was the worst moment of his season, especially as his team came into the game unbeaten in the Premier League this year, with one of the best defensive records.
"The buck stops with me and I will have to address it, obviously," O'Neill said. "I will draw on a couple of experiences. I've been beaten before, I've been mauled before although perhaps not in the same fashion as that. This will be a tough test. Will it leave scars on the players? I hope not and we will do our utmost to avoid that."
Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Cech; Ferreira, Alex, Terry, Zhirkov (Van Aanholt, 72); Mikel; Deco (Ballack, 72), Lampard; J Cole (Kalou, 76), Anelka, Malouda. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Drogba, Sturridge, Bruma.
Aston Villa (4-5-1): Friedel; L Young, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Agbonlahor (Beye, 71), Petrov (Downing, 62), Milner, Sidwell, A Young; Carew (Delfouneso, 62). Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Davies, Salifou, Cuellar.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Booked: Chelsea Zhirkov, Deco, Ferreira; Aston Villa Dunne, Petrov.
Man of the Match: Lampard.