José Mourinho's usual reluctance to single out players was abandoned after Eden Hazard ensured it was business as usual for Chelsea at Sunderland.
Hazard was the inspiration behind Chelsea's ninth successive victory on Wearside – equalling the top division's record of consecutive away wins against the same opponents, a record that Chelsea already hold.
The Belgian scored twice and created another goal for Frank Lampard, prompting a remarkable degree of praise from his manager.
"We were creative and dynamic when we had the ball – and we had a special Hazard," Mourinho said. "Normally I don't like to praise a player but from the first minute Eden was amazing. He has a great talent but sometimes he does incredible things then disappears from the game. Tonight he was fantastic from the first to the last minute.
"Last season he did something similar but to my mind this was his best performance for me. He was taking on defenders and shooting. Sometimes he creates a lot and doesn't shoot, but tonight his performance was fantastic."
Gus Poyet, the Sunderland manager, who spent three seasons as a player at Chelsea, could only concur. "Hazard was unplayable," he said. "I can't remember a player performing at that level against me as a manager. We doubled up and tripled up on him."
Chelsea needed such an impressive performance from one of their players because this victory was not as straightforward as other successes during their dominance on Wearside.
Jozy Altidore and John O'Shea exposed failings in Chelsea's defence with goals, while Phil Bardsley was also on target with their third just two minutes after scoring Chelsea's fourth in his own goal.
Sunderland went back to the bottom of the Premier League 24 hours earlier when Crystal Palace won and they stay there after this setback but they were ahead within 14 minutes through Altidore. With a confidence that was not warranted by his solitary goal this season, the American international took advantage of the generous space he was given by Gary Cahill to turn and score in the bottom corner.
Chelsea's only attacking response in the opening stages was a wayward shot from Lampard, who was to score the equaliser in the 17th minute in a manner that would have concerned Poyet, whose reaction to his team's goal had been subdued.
Perhaps the man who played 110 times for Chelsea sensed what lay ahead because Sunderland's defence was opened up alarmingly as Lampard was left unmarked in front of goal to head in Hazard's cross.
Chelsea led from the 36th minute through Hazard. This time, he only needed the distraction of an overlap from César Azpilicueta, again keeping out Ashley Cole, to enable him to cut inside two opponents and finish decisively from the edge of the area.
Poyet is building a solid team spirit at Sunderland, however, and they hit back within five minutes of the restart. Again, they were assisted by a lack of concentration from Chelsea's defence as they failed to deal with a miscued corner from Emanuele Giaccherini.
Two Chelsea players had an opportunity to clear before the ball found its way to O'Shea, whose shot on the turn beat Cech from near the penalty spot.
They should have been level for only six minutes, but Torres wasted a glorious chance, shooting over after Hazard's shot was beaten out by Mannone.
Torres, the last striker to score an away goal for Chelsea in the league – a year ago at Sunderland – was soon substituted, but by then they were ahead again through a gem of a goal.
Lampard and Hazard again combined superbly in the 62nd minute, with the England international's backheel setting up Hazard for another decisive finish. Chelsea's fourth goal was put into his own net by Bardsley, who made amends within two minutes when he scored at the other end to set up a tense climax as Chelsea coped with intense pressure from Sunderland before securing that ninth win in a row at the Stadium of Light.
While Mourinho was fully justified in his praise for Hazard, his analysis of his team's performance at the back was less convincing.
He said: "We played very well defensively, we had no problem in handling the situation, but we conceded three goals. When we play so well and score four goals away, you have to win but we were in trouble until the last seconds. You can concede one goal, but to concede three is a negative thing about a brilliant performance.
"It is very difficult to play the way we did, create so much and score so many goals. I can't even blame the defensive game of the team because we defended very well.
"There were rebounds here and there and we lost a man here and there, but the performance collectively was fantastic."