Chelsea sealed a dominant 2-0 victory in the Premier League against Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge.
A returning Joe Cole, who had been injured for two matches, drilled in a low drive from close range after an incisive ball by Frank Lampard.
Anelka then added Chelsea’s second near half-time, as the striker reacted quickest from Michael Ballack’s drive repelled by Brad Friedel, tapping-in on the rebound.
It was no less than Chelsea deserved, as they dominated proceedings throughout and rarely looked threatened by Martin O’Neill’s Villa side, despite Chelsea’s injury problems.
Chelsea missed five key players before the game and with Didier Drogba’s knee injury sustained in the midweek 0-0 draw at Cluj, Anelka returned up-front with young Argentine Franco Di Santo on the bench. Alex, also injured, was replaced by Branislav Ivanovic, making his Premier League debut.
Luiz Felipe Scolari will have been delighted with his side’s start as Chelsea began the first ten minutes emphatically with Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole’s constant forays penning Villa back and after seven minutes Friedel had to save Ballack and Malouda’s stinging drives.
Villa appeared toothless in attack and lacked momentum, instead surrendering the ball easily to the Blues, who spurned a great chance when Frank Lampard glanced a header wide from Anelka’s cross.
Chelsea had dominated the game and after squandering opportunities, finally lead on 21 minutes, when Florent Malouda capitalised on the edge of the area to combine with Lampard, before passing to Joe Cole who dispatched confidently beyond Friedel.
Villa’s players, who had been touted as even beating Chelsea before the game, had hardly competed at SW6 in the first-half. Apart from the odd cross by Gareth Barry, Villa had otherwise been out-fought by an impressive hosts display, particularly with Chelsea’s Ivanovic defending stoutly.
The visitors got lucky when Anelka’s thunderbolt from range smacked against the crossbar and bounced safely clear.
However Chelsea extended their lead just before the break when Ashley Cole’s marauding run and cross saw Ballack and Anelka’s efforts repelled by Friedel, before the striker finally netted.
With Chelsea dominant in the opening period, Villa could be no worse afterwards and they began purposefully as Stilian Petrov’s effort flashed wide just past the break.
Fourth place before this encounter, they began to improve and John Carew and a wayward Gabriel Agbonlahor wasted opportunities.
One reason Villa appeared to improve was through substitutes, defender Carlos Quellar and winger James Milner, whilst Chelsea will be concerned Anelka and Joe Cole hobbled off, with Di Santo and Salomon Kalou replacing them respectively.
But if not for poor finishing by Chelsea which culminated in Ballack, Di Santo, Kalou, Lampard and Malouda all wasting chances, the hosts could well have sealed the game earlier than the final whistle.
Kalou also had a legitimate strike disallowed on 65 minutes after good skill saw him fire past Friedel, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
However as Villa faded late on having to rely on Friedel denying Chelsea with some good saves, the match was effectively over as a contest, despite a more even second-half. Although Villa almost gained a late consolation when John Terry’s short header back to Cech almost allowed in Agbonlahor, only for the 6”5 inch keeper to deny him.
At full-time, Martin O’Neill’s side could not complain after not competing as expected, whilst Scolari’s side recovered from their disappointing midweek Transylvanian visit and played superbly despite numerous injuries. The biggest concern is Joe Cole’s injury.
Although Chelsea top of the table will delight Scolari whose team extended their unbeaten home league record to 86 matches.
Chelsea: Cech; Bosingwa, A Cole, Terry, Ivanovic; Malouda (Belletti 83), J Cole (Kalou 57), Mikel, Lampard, Ballack; Anelka (Di Santo 45).
Unused subs: Hilario, Bridge, Ferreira, Mancienne.
Aston Villa: Friedel; L Young (Milner 46), Shorey, Davies (Cuellar 46), Laursen; Reo-Coker, Barry, Petrov, A Young, Carew (Harewood 71), Agbonlahor.
Unused subs: Guzan, Knight, Salifou, Gardner.
Referee: Chris Foy.