Carlo: Cats cruise is Blues' best
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti hailed his side's 7-2 drubbing of weakened Sunderland as their best performance of the season.
Two goals apiece from Frank Lampard and Nicolas Anelka plus others from Michael Ballack, Florent Malouda and Ashley Cole set the seal on a fabulous afternoon for Chelsea.
The Blues remain top of the Premier League by a single point from Manchester United but have a game in hand on their rivals.
Sunderland managed two consolation goals from substitute Bolo Zenden and Darren Bent but with eight first-team players missing, they could not cope with Chelsea.
Chelsea's victory also proved they can prosper without African quartet Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Michael Essien and John Mikel Obi - all away on international duty in the African Nations Cup.
"I think that was maybe the best performance this season," said Ancelotti.
"We played very well until the end of the match. We started the game very well. I'm very happy because it's an important time for us.
"Without the African players we maybe could have some problems. I always said I have a fantastic squad and today other players played very well, especially Juliano Belletti in a new position for him, so it is a good moment for us.
"We played a lot of times without Drogba, and Nicolas Anelka did very well in the past. He also did very well today. Nicolas is a fantastic striker, he is a top striker, and we are very happy to have him in our squad.
"We don't want to send a message to the other teams. This performance for us is very good because it improves our motivation and improves our determination to do better if it is possible.
"These are important matches for us because we can also play without the African players.
"But I have a fantastic squad and in this period I will use other players."
Ancelotti singled out Ashley Cole's goal as the best of the bunch. His strike was the 18,000th in the Premier League but the England left-back hurt his ankle in scoring it.
"Maybe the best goal was Ashley's goal," said Ancelotti. "It was fantastic movement, fantastic dribbling and a fantastic goal. Then he had a problem with his ankle so we took him off for precaution."
Captain John Terry was also removed at half-time but with Chelsea 4-0 up, Ancelotti decided to give him a rest.
"We took John Terry off as a precaution," he added. "There was no injury. There is no problem with either of them for the next match."
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce accepts his side, missing eight first-team players through injury and suspension, could not cope with Chelsea.
Midfielder and captain Lorik Cana was forced to play in the centre of defence and was exposed for the first five goals at least.
"It's very difficult to analyse anything at the moment because of the disappointment," said Bruce.
"We simply could not cope, they were too good for us all over the pitch. Defensively we were inept and it's very difficult to come here when you have all your players fit and raring to go.
"I'm not looking for excuses, we simply were not good enough to be against Chelsea today in a lot of areas.
"We need our big players fit. Defensively we were without Michael Turner, John Mensah, Anton Ferdinand and Nyron Nosworthy, then you've got Kieran Richardson, Andy Reid and Lee Cattermole missing.
"It was too many and we found it a real struggle today. The captain has been magnificent all season and we asked him to go and play at centre half in the Premier League and he found it very difficult.
"It was just damage limitation. Every time they went forward they looked as though they were going to score.
"We hope to get four or five back next week and that will give everyone a lift and a boost because it's been a struggle over the last six weeks to be without eight, nine or 10 of your first team players.
"The one thing I'm not going to do is panic over a hiding we've got at Chelsea, they can do that to a lot of teams."