I certainly wasn’t expecting such an early Christmas present: news that Daniel Sturridge is leaving us. I rang the club and offered to drive him to Euston and pay for a First Class one-way ticket, just in case there’s any last minute hitch.
Obviously our relationship with Liverpool has now become like reciprocal charity shops. They give us their rubbish cast-offs and, in an act of return kindness, we give them ours. Hopefully that’ll be the end of the charity and we don’t accept Stewart Downing in return.
Nor was I expecting the other present from Aston Villa. Following their win at Liverpool last week and our limited recovery time from the exhausting journey to the northern wastelands of Yorkshire I was expecting a tight game and the usual Christmas draw. Instead it started raining goals for an extended period and ended with a deluge with Paul Lambert calling for sandbags to shore up the leaking Villa goal.
Everyone’s been saying it for some time but Rafa is the only one to do it, that is to play Luiz in midfield – FACT. Whether it’s because he’s the best option or rather because he can cause less damage with the inevitable calamity is a moot point. Oscar doesn’t seem to be in Rafa’s starting XI, which is a shame because I think Oscar is one of the most talented players to ever wear our shirt, but I’m not complaining because by Rafa only starting with two out of Mata, Hazard and Oscar he has made us more solid – FACT.
We got off to the perfect start with any early goal after only three minutes. A great cross in from the right and there was Torres, flying in to meet the ball at pace with his head and power home. It was a surreal moment, Torres scoring when a game was still tight and actually helping the team. That’s now only £49,999,800 he still owes us.
Sixteen minutes on the clock and the lemmings start their applause for Robbie Di Matteo. Oddly there was another round of applause after 19 minutes which means either some fans have faulty watches, or some fans can’t tell the difference between a 6 and a 9 or there was a significant player number 19 of whom I’m unaware.
Midway through the half a Villa player hoofed the ball away and it struck Luiz on the head. To be honest it was the most wanton act of violence I’d witnessed on a football pitch in years and Luiz was lucky to be alive. It didn’t seem to effect Luiz too badly though and a few minutes later he struck a magnificent free kick from the edge of the box which thundered past Guzan in goal.
To round off a comfortable half Ivanovic reacted quickly to a second ball and headed in. 3-0.
It would have been easy for us to sit back and cruise but we were having none of that. We were making chance after chance and after 60 minutes Frank picked up the ball well outside the box and, keeping his head down and focussing on the ball, drilled hard into the net. This goal took Frank beyond Bobby Tambling’s tally and was his 500th Premier League start; a top professional.
Shortly after Frank was replaced by Ramires. Was this to rest Frank for the Christmas schedule? Was it to give Frank the chance to wave goodbye to all the fans before he departs to Shepherds Bush or Los Angeles? Or was it just tactical? Regardless Frank got a standing ovation.
Torres was substituted by Oscar. Was this to rest Torres for Christmas? Was it to give Torres the chance to wave goodbye before he departs, maybe with Daniel to Liverpool? Or was it because Rafa couldn’t take any more of Torres prancing around wasting chances?
We continued to press and a Villa player thumped the ball clear and it hit Ashley Cole in the buttocks. This was the most shocking violence I’d witnessed in 30 minutes and Ashley was lucky to still be alive.
Next to score was Ramires. A great break and who else but Ramires, making up the ground to arrive in the box and strike home through Guzan’s legs. Just four minutes later and Oscar was brought down in the box. If it was still 0-0 Phil Dowd might have thought longer and harder about awarding the spot kick but Oscar obliged by powering home.
6-0 and we weren’t done yet. Hazard, playing more like the Hazard we all hoped for and saw in the first three games of the season, did some great work on the left, a quick one-two in the box and then struck home with ferocious force.
Piazon, who’d arrived for Mata, to add to our Brazilian contingent, was tripped in the box and there was no doubt about this being a penalty. We now adopted the approach of he who is fouled gets to take the penalty, a system I’ve not experienced since school break circa 1973. Unfortunately Piazon hit a weak spot kick that Guzan easily palmed over. Still, we were winning 7-0 so who’s complaining.
With only moments remaining we tore Villa to shreds once more with Ramires making another late arrival to side foot home from the edge of the box. Before the final whistle a Villa player fired a ball into Hazard’s shin from close range. This obscene act of violence made me feel physically sick and I feared for Hazard’s life.
What a fantastic performance. It could easily have been 12-0 and we made Villa look like a pub team from Leeds or Nordsjaelland. Hazard was the best I’ve seen him so far and most players had a sparkling game. The interchanges and creation of space were first class.
Don’t be fooled by the goal; for me Torres was still poor and fluffed other opportunities so I hope the deal has been done for a top class striker. Surely if we’re letting Sturridge go we’ve already put pen to paper for a replacement, or have we done a Spurs/Liverpool and sold without a backup plan?
Frank had a decent game and regardless of whether he should be in the first team (I’d personally start Ramires) I’d like to see him offered a deal to keep him at the club even if it’s only in an ambassadorial role.
How much credit for this performance and result goes to Rafa? I’m impressed with Rafa so far. I’ve enjoyed his interviews, he’s tightened up our defence, he’s managed to extract some improvement out of Torres and he’s kept smiling in the face of abuse. Whilst permanent managers have only lasted six months surely it’s worth a bet that an interim manager could last three and a half years and be Roman’s longest serving appointment? In Rafa I trust.
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “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 Daily Telegraph, Paul Hayward: “Under Rafa Benítez in December, Chelsea have put six past Nordsjaelland, five through Leeds and now eight in Aston Villa’s net. The two 0-0 draws with which Roman Abramovich’s latest appointee started his “interim” reign were the manure for a remarkable flowering of goals and entertainment.”
The Independent, Jack Pitt-Brooke: “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 their worst ever defeat.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Christmas came slightly early at the Bridge as the Blues turned on the style, especially in the second half of this one-sided encounter. Seven scorers supplied the eight goals with Fernando Torres setting the team on its way with a fine early header. David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic made it 3-0 by the break and after the interval Frank Lampard scored his 130th Chelsea top-flight league goal to set a new club record. Substitutes Ramires, with two, and Oscar, also found the net, as did Eden Hazard, and we also had the luxury of one missed penalty. At the other end Petr Cech kept a clean sheet with a superb save on to the crossbar.”