Rafael Benitez was still scribbling notes towards the end of Chelsea’s 8-0 rout of Aston Villa on Sunday and after the game, the Spaniard said there was plenty of room for improvement.
As Chelsea made it 13 goals from two games since returning empty-handed from a round trip to Japan for the Club World Cup a week ago, Benitez demanded even more from his players.
“I can see the team improving with the little things we wanted to improve,” said Chelsea’s interim manager after his team climbed to third in the English Premier League.
“But we can still improve some things. I say that after winning by eight,” he said.
Striker Fernando Torres, rediscovering the killer instinct he showed under Benitez at Liverpool, opened the scoring with a thumping header in the third minute at Stamford Bridge.
The goals kept flowing, Frank Lampard marking his 500th Premier League start with a sweetly struck fourth and Brazilian Ramires netting twice in an early Christmas stuffing of Villa.
“The players have been really focused since I arrived,” Benitez said, whose appointment angered many Chelsea fans following last month’s sacking of Roberto Di Matteo.
“They knew they had a new manager and they had to perform. We have to try to adjust things in every training session, but I was impressed with the way we played,” he said.
“From day one, they were keen to learn and to improve,” added the Spaniard, whose meticulous attention to detail is beginning to reap dividends for the Blues.
“Chelsea were a top side before I came here. They still are. You can see the team has confidence in themselves. They believe, they have good movement and they create chances,” he said.
Becoming the first holders to exit the Champions League at the group stage and then failing to compensate for it by lifting the Club World Cup, the pressure had been on Benitez.
Chelsea still trail Premier League pace-setters Manchester United by 11 points, and Manchester City by seven, albeit with a game in hand.
However, Benitez, who has tinkered with his side to good effect since their gruelling trip to the Far East, believes Chelsea can climb back into the title race.
“Now we have to sustain this run and it will be easier for me to say we can compete,” the Spaniard said.
Many of Chelsea’s players had said while in Japan that having time away from the bear pit of the Premier League to work with and adapt to Benitez’s style would bring its rewards.
“To win is always special, but the mentality of the players was good,” said Benitez, game-by-game beginning to look the part in his official Chelsea suit.
Credited by the players for making the team more compact defensively, against a Villa side woefully out of their depth, Chelsea’s attacking soccer was at times breath-taking.
“Even after we scored our sixth goal, we kept pushing forward for more,” Benitez said. “We had the balance we are looking for.”
Villa’s worst-ever league defeat has dragged them back into the relegation battle and the Midlands side now sit just three points above the drop zone.
The defeat was all the more galling for Villa given they had gone five games unbeaten in the Premier League since a 5-0 drubbing by champions Manchester City last month.
Manager Paul Lambert acknowledged his team had been second best in every department.
“Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” he told Villa’s official Web site. “We have been on a really good run, but we got beaten up today by a really good side. We were second best.”
Stamford Bridge has not been a happy hunting ground for Villa, who were hammered 7-1 there in 2010.
Lambert said Sunday’s defeat would sting his side into action and he was looking for a response when they host sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow.
“You always learn when you win, lose or draw. That will be a wake-up call for us,” he said.
“We only have two days to mull over it but we have to go again against Tottenham on Wednesday. I am sure whoever plays on Wednesday will atone for that,” the Scot said.