Eidur Gudjohnsen inspired the 2-0 victory over Aston Villa which cranked up Chelsea`s title challenge up a gear.
Gudjohnsen marked his recall to the starting line-up, after a month on the bench, with the fifth goal of his stop-start season.
The Icelander, back in place of Gianfranco Zola - who was himself dropped for the first time in three months - fired home an angled drive in the 43rd minute at Stamford Bridge.
It was no more than Claudio Ranieri's side deserved after coming back strongly from a shaky first two minutes, during which Olof Mellberg hit the Blues` crossbar.
Chelsea almost scored thanks to a freak deflection off William Gallas' face - with the ball looping onto the top of the Villa bar.
And when the Blues' second arrived, it certainly was fortuitous. Gudjohnsen's presence distracted Peter Enckelman as Frank Lampard's cross skidded into his net for a really soft goal in the 56th minute.
This comfortable win takes Ranieri's side - unbeaten in the Premiership for two-and-a-half months - into Christmas in a buoyant mood
As for Villa, dumped out of the Worthington Cup by Liverpool in midweek in a tie overshadowed by ticket chaos, their seven-month away winless streak in the league drags on.
Zola was dropped after accepting the blame for the goal which sent his side crashing out of the Worthington Cup against Manchester United on Wednesday.
Graham Taylor's side, who were bidding to claim their first away league win since the success at Chelsea in May, welcomed back skipper Steve Staunton from his ankle injury.
Villa absolutely roared out of the traps and had the Blues goal under siege for the first two minutes.
First, Mustapha Hadji's cross picked out Lee Hendrie and Graeme Le Saux had to block his close-range shot.
From the resulting corner, the ball fell to Mellberg at the far post and he sent a silky half-volley smacking against the face of the Londoners' crossbar.
A fine piece of skill by Hadji almost conjured the opener after 13 minutes - but after controlling an awkward bouncing ball and skipping round Mario Melchiot and William Gallas, he fired across the face of goal.
Hadji was a real menace on the left flank, a fact he underlined three minutes later when he cut inside Melchiot and sent a powerful drive whistling over the top of Carlo Cudicini's goal.
Another marvellous piece of skill, this time from Boudewijn Zenden, earned the Chelsea winger space to cross just before the 20-minute mark. From his delivery, Hasselbaink - arriving at pace - headed over.
Zenden's next contribution was rather less impressive, volleying Gudjohnsen's cross high and wide from an excellent position.
Mellberg made a quite brilliant recovery after misjudging Le Saux's long ball, which bounced over his head. Gudjohnsen raced clear but the Villa man sprinted back to execute a perfectly-timed sliding tackle.
Mario Stanic and Dion Dublin exchanged headers at goal as the game opened up again.
Enckelman made his first save of the afternoon on the half-hour, parrying Hasselbaink's free-kick.
An excellent covering tackle by Samuel robbed Lampard of a golden shooting opportunity a minute later.
And Zenden curled a quick free-kick into the side-netting as Ranieri's men upped the pace.
Gudjohnsen made the pressure pay when he made the breakthrough three minutes before the interval.
The Icelander raced onto Hasselbaink's weighted lay-off and fired past Enckelman from a narrow angle, with the ball ricocheting into the net off the far post.
Hasselbaink flashed a shot across the face of goal just before the break.
Chelsea could have put the game beyond Villa within 90 seconds of the restart.
Gudjohnsen turned Gareth Barry inside-out before shooting from close range - and only a lucky deflection off Enckelman's right shoulder prevented the home side doubling their lead.
And from the ensuing flag kick, Staunton's header deflected into Gallas' face and onto the top of the Villa bar.
In the 55th minute, Dublin's looping header landed on the roof of Cudicini's net.
Chelsea's second did arrive a minute later, in bizarre circumstances.
Lampard curled a diagonal cross in from the left flank, aiming for Gudjohnsen. But the ball skidded off the wet turf, evaded Gudjohnsen and bounced beyond Enckelman and into the far corner of his net for a very soft goal.
Cudicini parried late drives from Hadji and Allback as Chelsea held on to win.
Chelsea`s faulty impression of Brazil failed to amuse Claudio Ranieri today -
but it was still good enough to beat Aston Villa 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Ranieri was unhappy with his midfielders' poor tracking back in a frantic
'We conceded too many counter-attacks in the first half, as well as too much
space to Moustapha Hadji,' said the Chelsea boss.
'It was unbelievable. We played 4-2-4, like Brazil in the 1960s - but without
'Every counter-attack by Villa was very dangerous, and we suffered a lot.
'They were better than us on the pitch. I'm not very pleased because we
didn't play very well today - although it was important to win.
'When we attacked every attack was very dangerous. We scored a goal and
created a lot, but often lost the ball on the last pass.
'We worked a lot but not in the right way - maybe because my players wanted
to cancel out last season's 3-1 defeat.
Despite Ranieri's harsh verdict on his team's display, he described their
position after the first half of their season as 'fantastic.'
He demanded further commitment as Chelsea bid to end their 48-year
Ranieri's men leapfrogged second-placed Manchester United at least until their
clash at Blackburn tomorrow - and stayed just two points behind leaders Arsenal,
who beat Middlesbrough today.
Ranieri added: 'It's fantastic to be in this position now - but it's not
important at the moment.
'If we're second at the end of the season it will be very satisfying.
'Slowly, slowly we're getting better - and we'll keep working very hard.'
Eidur Gudjohnsen scored on his recall to the starting line-up after a month on
The Icelander, returning in place of Gianfranco Zola, was on target in the
It was no more than Ranieri's side deserved after coming back strongly from a
shaky first two minutes, during which Olof Mellberg hit the Blues crossbar.
Chelsea`s second goal was a fortunate one.
Gudjohnsen's presence distracted Peter Enckelman as Frank Lampard's cross
skidded into his net in the 56th minute.
It meant Villa's seven-month away winless streak in the league drags on.
Boss Graham Taylor said: 'We haven't won away in nine games and have scored
only two goals.
'But I thought that for the first 30 minutes today it was hard to see who was
in the top three and who wasn't.
'It's hard to understand the wide difference from that moment on.
'Chelsea got a couple of free-kicks, and we never got into the groove again.
'We were very poor in the second half. I thought it was the worst performance
in the last six or eight weeks.
'Too many heads went down, and that has to be addressed very seriously.'