A laugher. In a Premier League match. It's been more than a year since we had one of those, and longer still since Stamford Bridge played host. In days past, this is what supporters fed on (remember that run under Carlo Ancelotti?), and after having to make do with crumbs for a while, the gift Newcastle brought with them to London seemed almost implausibly benevolent.
Chelsea, scrabbling about in a self-made desert, were presented with the footballing equivalent of a nine-course banquet and all the fine wine fit to quaff. From the beginning, the Blues were rampant. By minute 10, they were two goals to the good and hungry for more; when full time came the only surprise was that the score was only 5-1. This was as complete a performance as you might ever hope for, matched against a team that barely bothered turning up.
Nemanja Matic was the first to try his luck, firing a snapshot wide after a ridiculous excuse for clearance fell onto his right foot at the edge of the box. That was a close shave for the Newcastle defence, but they barely had time to take stock before getting done by the real thing. Willian turned on the jets and powered through the centre of the pitch. Diego Costa, exploiting the bovine positioning of Steven Taylor, found space in the box. And when the pass came, he met it with an exquisite poked finish that bent its way around Rob Elliot.
Pedro had very kindly let the shot roll in of its own accord rather than lashing it in as it crossed the line, but he'd have a goal of his own in short order. Branislav Ivanovic set play up by the unusual expedient of fouling Rolando Aarons by the Chelsea corner flag, which drew Newcastle up the pitch and gave the Blues plenty of space to counterattack.
Counterattack they did. Jonjo Shelvey's delivery was worthy of a man named 'Jonjo', cleared at the near post and directed towards Eden Hazard up the pitch. Hazard lost possession, leaving him was complaining that Newcastle had won the ball illegally. The referee was having none of it, but Aarons saw fit to make sure justice was done by playing a frankly hilarious pass to Daryl Janmaat, napping unsuspectingly near the centre circle.
Pedro jumped in, going clear of Janmaat in a flash and guiding a 22-yard shot beyond Elliot before he'd had a chance to get set. He'd already conceded twice, but goalkeeper's miserable night was just getting started. Eight minutes later, he was picking the ball out of the back of the net once more.
Cesc Fabregas had been merrily embarrassing the Newcastle lines all evening. This time his cruel eye fell on Fabricio Coloccini, forcing the Magpies skipped into a footrace with Costa down the right channel. He lost, naturally, and with the visitors' defence in a blind panic, Willian's run down the left went completely unnoticed. All that was left to do was Costa to check back and release him with a pass; this was accomplished with a minimum of fuss, and the shot was duly buried.
Three shots on target and Chelsea were 3-0 up. That sort of finishing is difficult to keep up, and the Blues couldn't maintain the pace. Not for lack of trying, though -- Ivanovic had a good chance blocked by Aarons and then a header cleared off the line by Chieck Tiote. Pedro squandered a chance by firing straight at Elliot after Shelvey had casually allowed the Blues to burst in on goal with an errant pass. Willian might have grabbed his second with a superb free kick right on the stroke of halftime, but his effort was met at the bottom corner by an equally superb save.
All that Newcastle had managed in 45 minutes of bombardment was an apologetic Georginio Wijnaldum volley, which served mostly to confirm that Thibaut Courtois was indeed still alive. Their response to their abject first half* was to throw on Jack Colback and battle for their lives until the hour mark.
*Or possibly a very bleak joke by Steve McClaren.
The opening stages of the second half were as back and forth as you can imagine. Chelsea weren't doing much defending, presumably in an attempt to draw their guests up the pitch and open up some space for the attackers. Newcastle weren't either, mostly because they're crap. There were penalty shouts at both ends, with Pedro going down under a dubiously legal push from Colback and Aleksandar Mitrovic doing likewise after a definitely illegal stamp from Fabregas. Both were ignored.
Mitrovic had the Magpies' best chance of the whole game following a weak clearance by Gary Cahill, but he squirted just wide of Courtois' far post. That was the cue for the Blues to ramp up the pressure once more, and within minutes they were 4-0 up. Fabregas played a wonderful long pass for Pedro, who found himself one on one with Elliot after Taylor got sucked under the ball. One easy finish later, and the match was definitely dead.
The fourth goal was the cue for Bertrand Traore to make his entrance. The youngster had opened his Chelsea account at Milton Keynes a fortnight ago, and he had half an hour to notch his first Premier League goal (Newcastle still count, barely). He managed it in 23. Hazard and Cesar Azpilicueta combined on the right flank, and the latter put his low cross on a plate for Traore, who ran right through the middle of the pitch to slide home.
Hazard nearly grabbed his first goal from open play since the fall of Constantinople shortly thereafter, bringing down yet another exquisite pass from Fabregas to go clean through only to step on the ball and waste the opportunity. Then Andros Townsend
invaded the Lylat System took a little gloss off the scoreline by wandering unchallenged through the Chelsea midfield and lashing beyond the helpless Courtois.
That was the last significant action of a very pleasant game. Parties like this tend to come with hangovers, however, and this was no exception. Amidst the blissful flood of first half goals came a hamstring injury to John Terry (hence Azpilicueta turning up at right back), who left the pitch in body two weeks to the day after leaving the club in spirit. We don't yet know how seriously the captain's hurt, but any absence is going to leave us light on centre backs as we head into the Paris Saint-Germain game on Tuesday.
Still, a 5-1 win is plenty to celebrate. Onwards, upwards, Francewards.