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Tuesday 12 December 2017

We wiped slate clean: Lampard

CARLO ANCELOTTI, the Chelsea manager, chose not to speak to the press on Saturday, but he had no need to. His players, especially Frank Lampard, had done the talking for him.

Ancelotti had said on the eve of the match that the result and performance would tell him whether his team had come through their "bad moment" -- elimination from the Champions League by Inter Milan and two points dropped in a 1-1 draw away to Blackburn Rovers.

If beating Portsmouth 5-0 at Fratton Park five days ago did not convince him, embarrassing Aston Villa with Chelsea's biggest Premier League victory should have done.

Villa went into the match unbeaten in the league in 2010, with the best defensive record on the road, where they had conceded only 12 goals.

But four from Lampard, two from Florent Malouda and another from Salomon Kalou put paid to that and should send Chelsea into Saturday's match against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the mood to wrest back the initiative from the champions in the title race.

Lampard is now the club's third-highest scorer with 151 goals, overtaking the 150 scored by Roy Bentley and Peter Osgood.

"We didn't play well (against Inter) and it's not easy to take, because we are all desperate for success in that competition," the England midfield player said. "But we have to forget that now and wipe the slate clean. It's time to concentrate on what we are in, and we are in the league and in the FA Cup.

"There was really good determination from the lads this week. You can only go back to basics, do the simple things right and wait for the turn. Portsmouth was a bit of a turn and we have kicked on from there.

"Having lost ground and fallen 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."

But if the result was outstanding, the performance -- strange as it sounds after victory by a six-goal margin -- was almost patchy.

The first hour bordered on the humdrum, and Stamford Bridge was nervous when John Carew equalised for Villa with a mirror image of Lampard's opener.

Those nerves, though, were settled after Yuri Zhirkov cleverly won a penalty, which Lampard converted just before half-time, and as Villa opened up the game in search of a second equaliser, Chelsea tore into the gaps.

The pick of the goals was the third, as Deco delivered the pass of the match for Zhirkov to set up Malouda.

"I look back at the build-up to all the goals, even the penalties, and it was all good football," Lampard said. "That football is the way we want to play."





ROUT

Zhirkov won another penalty from which Lampard completed his hat-trick. Lampard returned the favour for Malouda's second, Nicolas Anelka provided the sixth for Kalou and Lampard completed the rout.

What was more remarkable was that Chelsea achieved this landmark without Didier Drogba, rested after picking up a series of minor injuries. They also made barely any inroads down the right, although they scarcely needed to with Malouda continuing his good form, aided by Zhirkov.

How much more potent Chelsea would be if there were still an Arjen Robben on the right to complement Malouda -- or even a fit Jose Bosingwa. Joe Cole played well, but he is not a right winger.

Villa, though, will be thankful for small mercies after a harrowing experience that was hardly an ideal rehearsal for the FA Cup semi-final between the teams on Saturday week. It left Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, with plenty to do in the interim.

"If we play like that, there's no point in us turning up (at Wembley)," he said. "I'll have a little look at the game again, if I dare to do that, but we succumbed, it's as simple as that, and it's not like us.

"We stopped competing and stopped doing everything that you're supposed to do in this professional game -- all in half an hour.

"We would have been beaten by a fourth-division side on the last half-hour's performance. We conceded goals that we've spent all season trying to avoid and were hammered in the game -- and deserved to be hammered.

"The buck stops with me. 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. We have got a week now to prepare for Bolton (at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday) and thank goodness we don't have any midweek games for a while. But that would sound as if the number of games we have played is an excuse. Please don't even go there.

"We have shown a lot more desire and a lot more character than we did today and that is totally my responsibility to put right."

Chelsea turn their sights on Old Trafford. "It's not a case of going there having to win it," Lampard said. "But the good thing is that now we can go there with confidence.

"The old cliché is that they are all cup finals and we need to treat them like that."

©The Times, London

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