Chelsea Smash Stoke For Seven (Sky Sports)
Chelsea 7 Stoke City 0
Solomon Kalou's hat-trick and a Frank Lampard brace ensured Chelsea stayed in control of the title race as they dispatched Stoke 7-0 at Stamford Bridge to return to the top of the Premier League.
Chelsea turned the screw in the opening stages and a delightful move resulted in a 23rd minute opener. Didier Drogba displayed sublime control to take down Florent Malouda's pass before crossing for Kalou to stoop home with his head to make it 1-0.
The lead was doubled just after the half hour when Thomas Sorensen's failure to hold a Frank Lampard drive allowed Kalou to slide home from close range, with matters made worse for the keeper as the Ivorian's challenge saw him exit the pitch on a stretcher with a suspected broken elbow.
Replacement stopper Asmir Begovic was soon picking the ball out his net for the third as former Blues defender Robert Huth tugged Kalou down in the box, allowing Lampard to coolly slot into the bottom corner after 44 minutes.
After the restart, Kalou completed his first treble for the club by stabbing home, as Lampard cushioned one over the head of Begovic, before substitute Daniel Sturridge and Malouda - atoning for a horrible earlier miss - capped off a superb team display with further goals.
Stoke were expected to put up some stiff resistance but Chelsea's mood from the kick-off dictated otherwise.
The Blues, so often criticised for failing to start well, were determined to reclaim top spot.
The visitors were not helped by a serious injury to goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and the loss of captain Abdoulaye Faye through injury early on.
Faye had been struggling with a thigh problem all week and he was replaced by Ryan Shawcross after just eight minutes.
It was Shawcross's first game since his tackle on Aaron Ramsey left the Arsenal midfielder with a badly broken leg at the end of February.
Chelsea should have taken the lead in the 12th minute when Lampard's shot was palmed into the path of Ashley Cole by Sorensen.
But Cole, playing his first game since fracturing an ankle against Everton in February, smashed his shot straight at the Denmark international.
In the 18th minute Drogba sent a speculative effort over the cross bar but two minutes later the Ivorian forced a superb save from Sorensen.
Full-back Paulo Ferreira found Drogba unmarked at the near post but his powerful header was brilliantly tipped away by the Stoke stopper.
In the 22nd minute Drogba latched on to a superb ball from Malouda, rounded Sorensen and then inexplicably smashed his volley high into the crowd. It should have been Chelsea's opener.
But he made up for it a minute later when he controlled a sweeping pass from Malouda and crossed for Kalou to head home from close range.
Lampard almost made it two in the 26th minute but his volley was collected safely at the near post by Sorensen.
Chelsea made it 2-0 in the 31st minute with another superb move. Nicolas Anelka's pass was cleverly played into the path of Lampard by Drogba.
The England midfielder drilled a first-time shot which Sorensen saved but Kalou poked home the rebound.
But Sorensen was injured trying to prevent Kalou from scoring and is understood to have fractured his elbow - an injury which, if confirmed, could keep him out of the World Cup finals. The Stoke goalkeeper was carried off on a stretcher after undergoing lengthy treatment.
He required oxygen as he left the pitch and was replaced by Asmir Begovic.
Chelsea made it 3-0 from the penalty spot in the 43rd minute when Robert Huth brought down Kalou and Lampard stroked home the spot-kick.
In the 52nd minute Kalou, clearly looking to a hat-trick, sent a curling shot just over the angle of the post and crossbar.
Stoke made a change in the 59th minute when Tuncay Sanli replaced Dave Kitson.
The departing Kitson was clearly not happy with the decision and gestured to the bench before going straight down the tunnel.
Kalou completed his first hat-trick for the club in the 68th minute to make it 4-0.
The Ivorian striker cut in from the right flank and although his first effort was saved by Begovic, Kalou slammed home the rebound.
It was the last action for the striker who was replaced by Joe Cole to a standing ovation from the home fans.
Malouda failed to score from a yard out when Anelka's cross eluded the Stoke defence and the France international was thwarted by a great save from Begovic in the 78th minute.
Chelsea made it 5-0 in the 81st minute when substitute Sam Hutchinson crossed for Lampard to score his 25th of the season with a clever volley.
In the 87th minute, Drogba set-up substitute Sturridge who rounded Begovic to make it 6-0.
Two minutes later Malouda made it 7-0 as Stoke capitulated under the constant pressure.
Cech, Alex, Ivanovic, A. Cole, Ferreira
(Hutchinson 73), Lampard, Ballack, Malouda, Anelka (Sturridge 79), Drogba, Kalou
(J. Cole 71)
Subs Not Used Hiario, Belletti, Zhirkov, Van Aanholt
Goals Kalou 24, 31, 68, Lampard (pen) 44, 81, Sturridge 87, Malouda 89
Sorenson (Begovic 35),
Higginbotham, A. Faye (Shawcross 9), Collins, Huth, Whitehead, Whelan,
Etherington, Delap, Kitson (Sanli 59), Fuller
Subs Not Used Lawrence, Beattie, Wilkinson, Pugh
Booked Whelan, Whitehead, Huth
Referee S. Bennett