Rafael Benítez's decision to move the Brazilian to midfield proved a stroke of genius as Aston Villa were beaten 8-0
Chelsea will be fortunate to find many other Premier League teams as prone to capitulation as a callow and embarrassingly limp Aston Villa proved in last knockings of this pre-Christmas romp at Stamford Bridge. In the face of a fluent, high-tempo attacking performance – inspired initially by a gloriously unencumbered midfield display by the redeployed David Luiz – Paul Lambert's youthful team were brutally outclassed.
There are those who have questioned what exactly Rafa Benítez, right, can hope to achieve in his interim tenure at Chelsea but it is tribute to his enduring tactical acuity that the most notable aspects of a fluid performance came not from what he was bequeathed by his predecessors but from his own galvanising innovations. Most notably there was David Luiz. Employed here for the first time in the Premier League as a central midfielder, the Brazilian produced a vibrant display, all knock-kneed pedigree nonchalance on the ball, decorated with a brilliant goal direct from a free-kick. It was, if not perhaps the complete midfield display – that would require a tangible opposition – then an utterly entertaining one from this most magnetic of players, reinvented here as a kind of Fulham Road Sócrates.
Already it seems clear that Benítez's gifts to Chelsea may extend beyond his ability to find Fernando Torres's on-switch. Torres scored again here, with a header of great power and placement for the first goal and providing an instant gold star for Benítez's upping of the tempo of Chelsea's play in the final third, the emphasis on looking first for a quick pass into the centre-forward. David Luiz, like Torres, has also carried a sense of unfulfilled riches, a player of outstanding athleticism and technical facility who remains, for all his pedigree, an enduring frustration, his brittler moments liable to be harshly punished in central defence.
Even before the encouraging midfield debut against Monterrey in the Club World Cup it had been noted that David Luiz had played as a midfielder at junior levels and Glenn Hoddle has separately suggested the Brazilian would make a brilliant right-back. Midfield, though, is the more ambitious option, a chance to harness David Luiz's energy and drive in an area where, persevering with Mikel John Obi, Chelsea have at times lacked presence.
Here he started in the deeper holding position, roaming aristocratically alongside Frank Lampard and providing support for the attacking midfield tripod of Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata. There was the odd difficult moment as David Luiz was, despite the scoreline, given a moderate early examination. Villa had been cautiously on the rise since the 3-2 home defeat by Manchester United and even threatened briefly to compete here before the progressive collapse of the final hour.
At times David Luiz was badgered in possession by the mobile Andreas Weimann in a manner that might be unfamiliar to a man who generally has the play in front of him. But even before half time this was becoming something close to a carefree romp for the most eye-catching player on the pitch. With 20 minutes gone a perfectly weighted pass almost put Mata in on goal, the kind of soft touch in a tight area that is the specialist skill of the central midfielder. And on 29 minutes David Luiz's headline moment arrived.
The free-kick that brought Chelsea's second goal and David Luiz's first in the Premier League this season was perfectly positioned for his right foot. Waving Lampard away, David Luiz addressed the ball with the top and side of his foot – Drogba-style – extracting prodigious dip as it ducked over the wall. Brad Guzan had no chance.
If it was David Luiz's energy as much as his daintier moments that helped set up the annihilating superiority of the final 20 minutes, afterwards Benítez was pointedly vague on his prospects of continuing in midfield. "We will analyse carefully," the Spaniard said, keeping his tactical cards, as ever, close to his chest. "Maybe he can rest, he can relax and he can play more games in this position. Maybe he will have more opportunities in this position but, if he has to play as a centre-back, he can do it very well too, so he gives us many options."
It is to be hoped that such opportunities will be quick in coming, if only for the prospect of a repeat of the wonderfully sui generis performance served up here. Long before Villa had wilted there were party-trick quadruple stepovers and the occasional sense, not least when playing the ball one side of Barry Bannan and running round the other, of a man thrillingly confident of his own ball-playing gifts.
It will be noted that David Luiz was freed of any responsibility to affect the game's momentum, which was always heading one way. He was also largely untested in the tricker aspects – positioning, timing – of what is a highly technical role and on another day there might be the corollary that Chelsea will lose his most obvious skill as a defender, the ability to carry the ball forward effortlessly from the back. But this was a day simply to luxuriate in a display of regal touch and athleticism from Chelsea's midfield ingénu, testimony as much to David Luiz's own gifts as to the tactical bravery of his interim manager.