Back in Yokohama, Rafael Benítez had broken away from talk of possibly winning the Club World Cup to suggest this fixture could inspire a title challenge. Beat Aston Villa with a hint of pizzazz and his players would "start building their confidence" and, with it, conviction. To have thrashed that opposition out of sight presumably confirms the pursuit of the league leadership is well and truly revived.

This was a thrashing to send shock waves up and down the division. Villa may be wide-eyed and vulnerable but they had arrived unbeaten in six games and still ended shredded, Chelsea having mustered a performance brimming with all the panache that typified the latter weeks of their last Premier League title success. Carlo Ancelotti had been in charge when these opponents and Stoke had been dispatched to the tune of seven goals, and Wigan whipped on the final day by eight. Benitez's team missed a penalty when the score was 7-0, the over-worked Brad Guzan somehow denying Lucas Piazón, but the American will have taken little pleasure in that mini-triumph. After all, this was Villa's heaviest defeat, with seven other Chelsea players having beaten him en route.

Such ruthlessness has been lacking at times, even when Roberto Di Matteo's team felt so swashbuckling over the opening weeks of this term. There may be mild surprise that it is a Benítez side who have registered 22 goals in four domestic matches – particularly given how blunt his players had appeared in those goalless stalemates with Manchester City and Fulham upon his appointment – but this team can click.

The interim first-team manager had the luxury of hauling a trio of key players from the fray relatively early with one eye on the cluttered programme to come. Their replacements merely dazzled in their stead, with four goals plundered and the spot-kick missed in the last 15 minutes.

Manchester United remain 11 points clear but Chelsea, risen from seventh back to third, have a game in hand and a timely injection of form. "You could see the players had confidence, that they believed," Benítez said. "They had good movement from the start, created plenty of chances, missed other chances, but the mentality was right: even after six goals they were still pushing forward for more. You can see the team are improving, and I'm sure the race will be closer. We can still improve and I say that after winning by eight … But now we have to sustain this run. If we do, it will be easier to say we can compete."

They benefited from Villa's fragility, their three-man defence by-passed in the opening exchanges and Paul Lambert either unable or reluctant to switch his tactical approach even as the game was veering away by the break.

There was no real defensive experience to call on from the bench, and an understandable lack of leadership from the youngsters enduring the scorching on the pitch. It was hard to contemplate that they had won at Stamford Bridge only last season, with this such a mismatch from the moment César Azpilicueta's fine whipped cross and Fernando Torres's thumping header from distance set the tone.

The striker now boasts seven goals in six matches, with this arguably his finest since joining the club. He still needs to produce such brilliance for this team on a major occasion, as the tournament in Japan proved, but a lack of confidence is less of a problem these days. Torres's bite is back.

At Anfield the previous weekend Villa had not been punished for a nervy start and, once settled, had imposed themselves impressively to maintain that recent flurry of form. Yet, once punctured early here, recovery never felt likely. They never coped with Chelsea's slippery pace down the flanks, where Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata interchanged with such relish, and Piazón and Oscar later joined in the fun. Inexperienced personnel wilted in the face of the onslaught. Villa's is a long-term plan and there will be occasions as miserable as this to endure.

Chelsea were irrepressible. David Luiz, relishing his second outing in central midfield, curled a glorious free-kick beyond Guzan in front of a baying Shed just before the half-hour mark to double the lead. Villa were still teetering moments later when Gary Cahill controlled Frank Lampard's corner with his first touch and spat a shot goalwards with his second. Guzan did wonderfully well to react to that attempt, but Branislav Ivanovic reacted quickest to nod in the rebound from the underside of the bar. Lampard's own reward was a volley from 20 yards, his 130th top-flight goal for Chelsea to eclipse Bobby Tambling's record. The irony was his departure moments later, to an optimistic chorus of "sign him up" from the stands, actually prompted the avalanche.

Villa withered away. Ramires, set up by Piazón's sublime first involvement – a pass threaded between Joe Bennett and Nathan Baker – finished through Guzan's legs and later side-footed in the eighth. Oscar won and then converted a penalty, with Hazard twisting away from two panicked Villa defenders before thrashing a blistering shot into the top corner.

Villa had been praying for the end for some time. Chelsea must hope this is merely the beginning of their own charge back towards the summit.

Man of the match Juan Mata (Chelsea)