Two second-half goals from Alvaro Morata, both assisted by Callum Hudson-Odoi, ensured our defence of the FA Cup got off to the perfect start as Nottingham Forest were beaten 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.
The Spanish striker struck twice in quick succession, first with a close-range finish before heading home a brilliant second, with each of the goals owing much to the guile and inventiveness of Hudson-Odoi.
The Blues had dominated an eventful opening 45 minutes without being able to find the breakthrough. Morata and Davide Zappacosta both went close, but the best of the chances fell to Cesc Fabregas, who saw his penalty saved by Forest 'keeper Luke Steele.
The one disappointing aspect of the game was an injury to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was forced out of the action just before the break, but that aside it was a positive afternoon's work ahead of Tuesday's Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Tottenham.
Willy Caballero started in goal for the Blues and Andreas Christensen came in to play alongside David Luiz in the centre of defence.
Ethan Ampadu and Ross Barkley were deployed either side of skipper Fabregas in midfield and further forward two Chelsea Academy products, Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi, formed part of an attacking trio with Morata.
Willian, Pedro and Olivier Giroud were unavailable due to injury, although a strong Chelsea bench included N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard.
There were a couple of early opportunities for the Blues as we began on the front foot, with Hudson-Odoi unable to pick out a blue shirt after doing well to get in down the left, and it was from a similar position that Emerson Palmieri pulled the ball back to Fabregas, who dragged his strike wide.
Forest keeper Steele produced an important save to keep the scores level when he palmed away a Morata header after the striker had been picked out well by Zappacosta’s cross, and when Loftus-Cheek was brought down on the edge of the box soon after, Emerson curled a left-footed free-kick inches over the bar.
Claudio Yacob appeared fortunate not to be penalised when he tripped Morata as the forward latched on to a trademark ball over the top from Fabregas, with Maurizio Sarri visibly frustrated by the decision on the sidelines.
The Chelsea pressure was mounting, and just before the half-hour mark we were presented with an opportunity to seize the initiative when Loftus-Cheek collected a Zappacosta delivery inside the box and shifted away from Danny Fox, before being brought down by the Forest captain.
The referee’s decision was an easy one, it was as clear a penalty as you are likely to see, and he had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Fabregas stepped up to take it, but his low drive was saved by Steele down to his right-hand side.
Steele was in inspired form and moments later it was Zappacosta who was thwarted by the Forest keeper, his powerful strike well saved after Morata had carried the ball from inside our half and picked out the run of the defender.
In yesterday’s pre-match press conference Gianfranco Zola had spoken about Hazard, a regular throughout the busy festive period, being given a rest, but as the first half drew to a close the Belgian’s services were called upon as Loftus-Cheek was forced off through injury.
Having been unable to capitalise on our first-half dominance, within three minutes of the restart what was a fully deserved opening goal arrived.
Zappacosta found Hudson-Odoi, who had switched to the right following the introduction of Hazard, and the 18-year-old did superbly, beating Saidy Janko with a combination of pace and skill, with his teasing delivery across the face of goal swept home by Morata at the near post.
Just moments later our lead was almost extended and it was Hudson-Odoi once again causing the Forest defence problems with his direct running, the youngster eventually getting a shot away which Steele just about managed to hold on to.
Hudson-Odoi's influence on the contest was growing and when the second goal arrived just before the hour it was no surprise he was heavily involved once more.
Just like for the first goal, he collected the ball out wide on the right, but rather than delivering the ball low, he sent a wonderful pinpoint cross into the box where it was met emphatically by Morata, who expertly guided his header into the bottom corner with Steele rooted to the spot.
Two goals in quick succession had put us firmly in the ascendancy, and there was a confident feel to our play as we kept the ball well, with both David Luiz and Fabregas firing over the bar from long-range as we went for a third.
With 16 minutes remaining Sarri made a second change of the afternoon as Morata, perhaps with an eye on Tuesday's game against Tottenham, was replaced by Cesar Azpilicueta. The substitute slotted in at left-back and Emerson moved into an advanced role on the left of the front three, with Hazard through the middle and Hudson-Odoi on the right.
Steele saved from Barkley, who fired towards goal from a Zappacosta cross, and it was then Hudson-Odoi's turn to go close as he collected a pass from Hazard and fired towards goal from outside the box under pressure. The strike lacked power, however, and was a comfortable one for Steele.
As the game edged towards its conclusion, with the sting taken out of the contest by Morata's two goals, Fabregas departed to a wonderful ovation from the Stamford Bridge faithful, N'Golo Kante the player coming on.
The damage had been done by Morata, however, and we now wait to see who we will face in the fourth round when the draw is made on Monday night.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Caballero; Zappacosta, Christensen, David Luiz, Emerson; Barkley, Fabregas (c) (Kante 84), Ampadu; Loftus-Cheek (Hazard 41), Morata (Azpilicueta 74), Hudson-Odoi.
Unused subs: Kepa, Rudiger, Jorginho, Moses
Scorer Morata 48 and 59
Booked Barkley 40
Nottingham Forest (4-2-3-1): Steele; Daria, Yacob, Fox (c), Janky; Guedioura, Colback; Cash (Lolley 56), Carvalho, Osborn; Murphy.
Unused subs: Smith, Robinson, Yates, Dias, Appiah, Ahmedhodzic
Booked Colback 67
Referee Andrew Medley