MATCH REPORT: CHELSEA 5 WATFORD 0
Chelsea began the new year and FA Cup campaign in emphatic style today, smashing visitors Watford 5-0 with Daniel Sturridge netting twice.
The Blues were back to our best as we scored three goals in an eventful first half before dominating the second with another brace.
Sturridge scored at both ends while Frank Lampard added a beautifully-placed goal in the second half on a cold afternoon in west London.
Henrique Hilario replaced a resting Petr Cech between the posts and Yury Zhirkov took up position on the left of a midfield three. Daniel Sturridge sat in the centre of the attacking trio with Joe Cole on the right flank and Florent Malouda, returning from his one-match ban following a red card against Birmingham, on the left as a 4-3-2-1 shape was deployed.
It was Chelsea's first fixture without Didier Drogba, as the Ivorian joined Salomon Kalou, Michael Essien and John Mikel Obi for the African Cup of Nations. Nicolas Anelka missed the game with a hamstring injury not yet behind him.
Last season over 16,500 fans watched Anelka net his hat-trick at Vicarage Road against Brendan Rodgers' Watford, during Ray Wilkins' only game in charge of the Blues.
That was our fourth consecutive victory over the Hornets; our last defeat was in 1999, and there were four Watford players from last season's match, including their keeper and three of the back line, in today's side.
Watford arrived at Stamford Bridge with only one win in their last seven fixtures. They have not secured victory away from home since their clash with Middlesbrough back in mid-October.
The visitors drew their last outing against Bristol City with Tom Cleverley and John Eustace finding the net in the 2-2 score.
There was some interesting news before kick off. By the time we began our 2009/10 FA Cup campaign, Manchester United had already been expelled from the tournament by Leeds.
Keen not to see the Whites' feat mirrored at Stamford Bridge, the Blues began strongly and were leading within four minutes.
With Sturridge the scorer, it was a well-worked move coming from our third corner of the game. Frank Lampard sent the ball in for Alex to nod down for John Terry. The captain's subsequent shot seemed to be flying astray before Sturridge calmly tapped in at the far post for his first Chelsea goal.
Within five minutes of the goal both Alex and Lampard had further chances denied by Watford keeper Scott Loach, who watched the majority of football taking place just outside his box.
Soon it was 2-0 with a fairly scruffy goal scored in front of the travelling fans. As Malouda's cross found Joe Cole on the far side, our number 10 passed to Lampard in front of goal, but an attempted off-the-line clearance turned into an own-goal as Eustace kicked the ball in off his own header. Chelsea were looking strong and dominating.
Despite pulling his sleeves over his hands to fight off the cold, Zhirkov was settling into his midfield role and teaming up well with Ashley Cole on the left flank. The summer arrival would be instrumental in Chelsea's third.
It was a shot drilled from the edge of the box by Zhirkov that took a slight touch from Malouda before bouncing past Loach.
With 21 minutes played the game was already 3-0 and truly ours. There were further attempts on goal from Lampard, Belletti, Zhirkov, Sturridge and Terry before half time, although all were unsuccessful.
With four minutes of the first half remaining, Belletti was shown yellow for a rash challenge on Lansbury before the same card was brandished at Joe Cole for pulling Eustace to the ground.
The beginning of the second half was slightly more subdued than the first, although Chelsea continued to threaten. Terry came closest to scoring inside the first five minutes, only for Loach to deflect his shot out for our 14th corner of the game.
Then Hilario was forced to prove his abilities with Watford's first real chance of the game, a Demerit header from a corner, which our Portuguese keeper collected with ease.
With the hour mark passed, Lampard shone to make it four. Seeing his chance on the edge of the box, our midfield maestro sent an inch-perfect, curling shot into the top corner. A well deserved goal for our vice-captain.
It was straight after that when Belletti made way for 21-year-old Nemanja Matic to make an appearance.
And the goal-fest continued as we began our FA Cup campaign in style. Sturridge netted his second with another tap in at the far post, this time following an Ashley Cole cross.
It would be the forward's last kick of the game as he made way for Fabio Borini. Shortly after that Gael Kakuta came on for Ashley Cole, allowing Zhirkov to move back into defence. Then Chelsea youth product John Harley came on as a sub for Watford to applause from the crowd.
The new additions rejuvenated the side slightly and Chelsea continued to dominate, with most of the match being played around Watford's area, but there would be no more goals before the final whistle, despite five minutes of stoppage time.
There was a slight scare when a Harley chance came back off the post to fall into Henderson's path, but with Hilario well placed to block, the offside flag was up anyway.
Overall it was a fantastic way to begin 2010 and our defence of the FA Cup.
By Christian Collison
Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Hilario; Ivanovic, Alex, Terry (c), A Cole (Kakuta 73); Lampard, Belletti (Matic 64), Zhirkov; J Cole, Malouda; Sturridge (Borini 69).
Unused subs Turnbull, Carvalho, Ballack, Ferreira.
Booked Belletti 40, J Cole 42, Matic 82
Watford (4-4-2): Loach; Hodson, Mariappa, Demerit (c), Doyley; Cleverley, Eustace, Severin (Jenkins h-t), Lansbury; Cowie (Harley 79), Graham (Henderson 79).
Unused subs Lee, Bennett, Hoskins, Kiernan.
Booked Lansbury 40, Hodson 69, Eustace 80, Cleverley 85