Nicolas Anelka grabbed two as Chelsea turned on the style at Stamford Bridge
By Sam Lyon
Chelsea returned to Premier League action in emphatic fashion as they routed Sunderland to once again underline their title credentials.
Nicolas Anelka grabbed the first, a one-on-one, and sixth, a tap-in, while Florent Malouda smashed the second.
A Frank Lampard volley followed Ashley Cole's stunning control and finish, before Michael Ballack headed a fifth.
Bolo Zenden and Darren Bent replied either side of Lampard's headed second, but it really was scant consolation.
The win keeps Chelsea one point ahead of title rivals Manchester United at the top of the table with a game in hand on their rivals.
And it was as convincing a win as the scoreline suggests, with any questions about how Chelsea would cope without Africa Cup of Nations players Didier Drogba, John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien and Salomon Kalou answered forcefully.
Both side's last league action was back on 28 December following the spate of postponements because of the weather - and Black Cats boss Steve Bruce chose to take his team to the Algarve in the meantime in a bid to inspire them to a first win in eight league games.
Ancelotti allays Terry and Cole fears
It didn't work. Chelsea, coming into the match off the back of seven dropped points in their last five games, were irresistible, Sunderland were woeful.
Interestingly, Bruce, when in charge of Huddersfield in 2000, had a £750,000 bid for John Terry accepted by Chelsea, only for the player to turn down the move.
How he must have wished he had had the England captain at the heart of his defence at Stamford Bridge. Instead, Albanian midfielder Lorik Cana, deputising at the back with the likes of Nyron Nosworthy and Anton Ferdinand injured, produced a truly disastrous display.
Time and again he was caught out - and with Chelsea in no mood to forgive his ineptitude, Sunderland's modus operandi quickly went from early optimism to damage limitation.
Anelka, back to lead the line in a 4-3-3 formation after a hamstring injury, kick-started matters, collecting Ballack's sublime through ball, rounding the keeper and slotting in, before Malouda ran unchallenged from the middle of the park to slot into the corner from 18 yards.
Ashley Cole's moment of brilliance followed. The left-back, on the sprint, brought Terry's ball over the top down first time, stepped inside Cana, and then dinked past keeper Marton Fulop with the outside of his boot.
It was an exquisite strike, reminiscent of Cole's former team-mate at Arsenal Dennis Bergkamp, and it typified the hosts' swelling confidence.
There was little respite for the Black Cats. Just 34 minutes were on the clock when Chelsea racked up their fourth - Lampard stretching to volley home Ashley Cole's cross - and Ballack, Joe Cole and Anelka again all failed to finish off flowing moves as Chelsea moved the ball about at will.
Sunderland's only crumb of comfort was the odd threat they posed in attack. Bent had a snap-shot easily saved by Petr Cech, while Daryl Murphy was bravely denied by the keeper from eight yards out after good work by Kenwyne Jones.
But, in truth, only Chelsea's occasional tendency to over-play and Sunderland keeper Fulop prevented this from being a cricket score.
We've had our backsides kicked - Bruce
The Hungarian keeper produced a stunning save to deny Anelka at the start of the half, tipping the Frenchman's long-ranger on to the bar and post.
He could do nothing about Chelsea's fifth, though, Ballack waltzing into the area completely unmarked to head home Joe Cole's pin-point cross.
Completely against the run of play, Sunderland briefly hit back, Zenden slapping the ball into the corner on his old stomping ground from Jones's knock-down.
But the renaissance lasted all of nine minutes, Anelka making the most of a Fulop flap at Yuri Zhirkov's cross to tap into an empty net.
There was still 25 minutes remaining at that point, and Sunderland must have feared the worst, but Fulop denied Anelka a hat-trick from six yards out and Joe Cole hit the post with a header to give the away goal some respite.
Not for long, though. Lampard brought up Chelsea's seventh with a controlled header from Anelka's bullet cross, while Bent rounded off the goal frenzy at the other end with close-range finish in stoppage time.
It was a whirlwind finish to a match filled with goalmouth action, a suitable way for Chelsea to mark their 350th Premier League win - a feat only Manchester United and Arsenal have previously achieved.
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti: "We have just given maybe our best performance of the season. This is how we should continue to play from now until the end of the campaign.
"I took John Terry and Ashley Cole off at half time because John had a problem with his back, while Ashley took a knock on his ankle. But it was just a precaution.
"As for Ashley's goal - it was fantastic. Fantastic movement, and a fantastic pass from John Terry."
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce: "There's no getting away from it, we have had our backsides well and truly kicked.
"We've got a lot of players missing defensively and this is a hard enough place to come when you have a full strength side.
"But we couldn't get near them today, it was a procession, and we can only hope that we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, and respond."
90:00+1:54 The game is over, as the referee blows his whistle.
90:00+1:38 Assist on the goal came from Paulo Da Silva.
90:00+1:38 GOAL - Darren Bent:Chelsea 7 - 2 Sunderland Darren Bent gets on the score sheet with a goal from close range to the top left corner of the goal. Chelsea 7-2 Sunderland.
90:00+1:12 Inswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Boudewijn Zenden.
90:00+0:38 Darren Bent challenges Ricardo Carvalho unfairly and gives away a free kick. Branislav Ivanovic restarts play with the free
89:31 Assist on the goal came from Nicolas Anelka.
89:31 GOAL - Frank Lampard:Chelsea 7 - 1 Sunderland Frank Lampard scores a headed goal from just inside the edge of the penalty box. Chelsea 7-1 Sunderland.
89:30 The ball is sent over by Nicolas Anelka,
87:24 Inswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Yuri Zhirkov, Marton Fulop makes a save.
87:11 The ball is crossed by Joe Cole, Boudewijn Zenden manages to make a clearance.
84:49 Headed effort from inside the area by Joe Cole hits the post.
83:38 Unfair challenge on Yuri Zhirkov by David Meyler results in a free kick. Alex has a direct shot on goal from the free kick,
blocked by Paulo Da Silva.
82:27 Centre by Nicolas Anelka, clearance made by David Meyler.
81:28 The ball is crossed by Joe Cole.
81:00 Outswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Florent Malouda, clearance by David Meyler.
80:42 Frank Lampard takes a shot. Blocked by Jordan Henderson.
78:52 Florent Malouda crosses the ball.
76:47 Joe Cole produces a right-footed shot from the edge of the area and misses to the left of the goal.
76:00 Corner taken by Florent Malouda played to the near post, Lorik Cana manages to make a clearance.
75:35 Florent Malouda sends in a cross, Nicolas Anelka takes a shot. Save by Marton Fulop.
74:54 David Meyler concedes a free kick for a foul on Nicolas Anelka. Juliano Belletti takes the free kick.
74:20 The assistant referee signals for offside against Nicolas Anelka. Paulo Da Silva takes the indirect free kick.
73:48 Unfair challenge on George McCartney by Michael Ballack results in a free kick. Marton Fulop takes the free kick.
73:35 Yuri Zhirkov produces a cross.
72:56 Inswinging corner taken by Florent Malouda, save by Marton Fulop.
72:13 Substitution Fraizer Campbell joins the action as a substitute, replacing Daryl Murphy.
70:39 George McCartney crosses the ball, comfortable save by Petr Cech.
69:53 Yuri Zhirkov sends in a cross.
69:36 A cross is delivered by Michael Ballack, clearance made by Paulo Da Silva.
68:37 Florent Malouda takes the outswinging corner, Paulo Da Silva manages to make a clearance.
68:10 Corner taken left-footed by Florent Malouda, clearance by Daryl Murphy.
68:02 A cross is delivered by Yuri Zhirkov, blocked by Lorik Cana.
66:18 Centre by Yuri Zhirkov.
65:50 Booking The referee books Phillip Bardsley for unsporting behaviour.
65:32 Florent Malouda fouled by Phillip Bardsley, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Frank Lampard.
64:17 GOAL - Nicolas Anelka:Chelsea 6 - 1 Sunderland Nicolas Anelka fires in a goal from the edge of the penalty area low into the middle of the goal. Chelsea 6-1 Sunderland.
64:13 The ball is delivered by Yuri Zhirkov, Marton Fulop makes a comfortable save.
63:23 The ball is delivered by Joe Cole, Marton Fulop makes a save.
62:16 Corner from the left by-line taken by Frank Lampard, save by Marton Fulop.
61:34 Outswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Florent Malouda, Frank Lampard takes a shot. Lorik Cana gets a block in.
61:15 Florent Malouda produces a cross, George McCartney manages to make a clearance.
60:22 Unfair challenge on Yuri Zhirkov by David Meyler results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Ricardo Carvalho.
59:45 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on David Meyler by Nicolas Anelka. Jordan Henderson crosses the ball from the free
kick right-footed from left wing, Frank Lampard manages to make a clearance.
58:19 Phillip Bardsley takes a shot.
58:03 The ball is crossed by Daryl Murphy, clearance made by Branislav Ivanovic.
57:51 George McCartney sends in a cross, clearance made by Yuri Zhirkov.
55:33 Kenwyne Jones provided the assist for the goal.
55:33 GOAL - Boudewijn Zenden:Chelsea 5 - 1 Sunderland Boudewijn Zenden grabs a goal from just outside the box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Chelsea 5-1 Sunderland.
51:43 Joe Cole provided the assist for the goal.
51:43 GOAL - Michael Ballack:Chelsea 5 - 0 Sunderland Michael Ballack grabs a headed goal from close range. Chelsea 5-0 Sunderland.
51:41 Joe Cole delivers the ball,
50:42 Florent Malouda takes a inswinging corner to the near post, clearance made by Boudewijn Zenden.
49:30 Phillip Bardsley challenges Florent Malouda unfairly and gives away a free kick. Indirect free kick taken by Frank Lampard.
49:05 Nicolas Anelka takes a shot.
48:14 Corner taken right-footed by Joe Cole from the left by-line, Darren Bent makes a clearance.
48:00 The ball is delivered by Frank Lampard, Daryl Murphy gets a block in.
47:09 The ball is swung over by Yuri Zhirkov, Lorik Cana manages to make a clearance.
Correction - 45:34 Corner taken by Florent Malouda.
45:01 The second half has started.
45:01 Inswinging corner taken by Florent Malouda from the right by-line.
45:01 Substitution Boudewijn Zenden comes on in place of Steed Malbranque.
45:01 Substitution Yuri Zhirkov on for Ashley Cole.
45:01 Substitution John Terry goes off and Alex comes on.
45:00+2:17 The ref blows to signal half-time.
45:00+0:32 The ball is sent over by Juliano Belletti, Lorik Cana manages to make a clearance.
43:38 Daryl Murphy crosses the ball, clearance made by John Terry.
43:10 Joe Cole takes a shot. Save by Marton Fulop.
41:48 Ricardo Carvalho fouled by Darren Bent, the ref awards a free kick. Petr Cech takes the free kick.
41:25 Header at goal by Kenwyne Jones, John Terry gets a block in.
40:31 Nicolas Anelka takes a shot.
39:14 Shot from long distance by Juliano Belletti misses to the right of the target.
38:47 Short corner taken by Joe Cole.
38:41 Juliano Belletti produces a cross, clearance made by Lorik Cana.
37:34 George McCartney produces a cross.
36:17 Juliano Belletti takes a long range shot clearing the crossbar.
35:10 Michael Ballack sends in a cross.
34:11 Effort on goal by Kenwyne Jones from just inside the penalty area goes harmlessly over the target.
33:08 The ball is swung over by Ashley Cole,
33:07 Assist on the goal came from Ashley Cole.
33:07 GOAL - Frank Lampard:Chelsea 4 - 0 Sunderland Frank Lampard finds the net with a goal from close range to the bottom left corner of the goal. Chelsea 4-0 Sunderland.
32:05 Nicolas Anelka takes a shot. Save by Marton Fulop.
31:25 Frank Lampard has an effort at goal from long distance that goes wide left.
30:28 Effort on goal by Branislav Ivanovic from long range goes over the bar.
27:11 Unfair challenge on David Meyler by Michael Ballack results in a free kick. Marton Fulop takes the indirect free kick.
25:19 Inswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Frank Lampard, Marton Fulop makes a save.
23:06 A cross is delivered by Jordan Henderson.
21:50 John Terry provided the assist for the goal.
21:50 GOAL - Ashley Cole:Chelsea 3 - 0 Sunderland Ashley Cole fires in a goal from inside the six-yard box low into the middle of the goal. Chelsea 3-0 Sunderland.
20:47 Shot on goal by George McCartney from long range goes harmlessly over the target.
20:30 The ball is sent over by Steed Malbranque, clearance made by Michael Ballack.
19:19 The assistant referee flags for offside against Darren Bent. Free kick taken by Petr Cech.
17:00 Juliano Belletti provided the assist for the goal.
17:00 GOAL - Florent Malouda:Chelsea 2 - 0 Sunderland Florent Malouda grabs a goal from just inside the penalty area to the bottom left corner of the goal. Chelsea 2-0 Sunderland.
15:22 Florent Malouda takes the inswinging corner, David Meyler makes a clearance.
14:23 David Meyler concedes a free kick for a foul on Florent Malouda. Free kick taken by Frank Lampard.
13:09 Darren Bent takes a shot. Save by Petr Cech.
12:51 Florent Malouda delivers the ball, clearance by Phillip Bardsley.
12:22 Joe Cole delivers the ball, clearance by Lorik Cana.
10:40 The ball is swung over by Michael Ballack.
10:03 Foul by Darren Bent on Juliano Belletti, free kick awarded. Indirect free kick taken by Ricardo Carvalho.
9:44 Centre by George McCartney, clearance made by Ricardo Carvalho.
8:31 The ball is crossed by Daryl Murphy, clearance by Petr Cech.
7:14 Michael Ballack provided the assist for the goal.
7:14 GOAL - Nicolas Anelka:Chelsea 1 - 0 Sunderland Goal scored by Nicolas Anelka from inside the box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Chelsea 1-0 Sunderland.
4:46 Inswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Frank Lampard, Ricardo Carvalho has a headed effort at goal from close range
which goes wide of the left-hand upright.
4:38 The ball is crossed by Ashley Cole, clearance made by Steed Malbranque.
3:25 Joe Cole produces a cross, Ashley Cole produces a headed effort from deep inside the six-yard box which goes wide of the right-hand
1:45 Steed Malbranque challenges Ashley Cole unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Frank Lampard.
0:31 Unfair challenge on Kenwyne Jones by Michael Ballack results in a free kick. Paulo Da Silva takes the indirect free kick.
0:00 The referee gets the match started.
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