The Blues made it six wins on the spin by convincingly taking a big scalp on Sunday afternoon, Samuel Eto’o scoring a hat-trick.
The Cameroonian’s opener came after a strong opening from the visitors but from that moment on, the result rarely looked in doubt, with the other goals coming either side of half-time.
The reigning champions, who end the day 12 points behind Chelsea, were only able to pull a goal back inside the final 15 minutes, and had their skipper Nemanja Vidic sent off in stoppage time as Jose Mourinho’s men negotiated the close with no further scares.
Branislav Ivanovic had recovered from injury earlier than originally anticipated and resumed at right-back with Cesar Azpilicueta moving back over to the left.
The five midfielders were unchanged from the win at Hull so David Luiz retained his place but there was a change at centre-forward with Eto’o starting, and what a good decision that proved to be.
New signing Nemanja Matic was on the bench, as was Frank Lampard who was back from injury suffered over the Christmas period.
Man United made three changes from their win over Swansea last weekend with Jonny Evans preferred to Chris Smalling in central defence and Phil Jones and Ashley Young coming in for Darren Fletcher and Shinji Kagawa.
Prior to kick-off in this first home match of the new year, there were special presentations to Frank Lampard and John Terry to mark them passing the 600-game milestone during 2013.
Stamford Bridge had been looking forward to this game for some time but the early possession was with Man United, and Cech was called upon to make a smart stop on the turf from Young as Chelsea became outnumbered on the right of our penalty area. Then Valencia and Rafael between them managed to get behind the other side of our defence on a couple of occasions.
Ramires hit the Blues first shot on target on 10 minutes but it was too tame to worry David De Gea. Willian hit a sweeter effort soon after but a deflection off Evra this time drew the sting out of it.
Steadily Mourinho’s men were gaining a foothold in the game, partly due to some collective pressing of Man United in possession in the middle of the park, and partly due to the visitors conceding a series of free-kicks.
It was Eto’o who turned the improvement into something tangible on 16 minutes. The Cameroonian, who has on his CV an opening goal in a Champions League final against the same opposition, was dropping deep at times and it was in such a position on the right that he found himself with the ball and with space.
Also with the skill to take the ball inside of Jones, Eto’o then tried his luck from outside the area and the ball deflected up off Carrick’s attempt to block. De Gea was beaten as it looped up then down into the far side of the net.
It was the goal that immediately kick-started Chelsea’s performance but with the temperature of this big match raised, David Luiz was booked for a foul on Valenica.
Boosted by the goal, our midfielders were now finding space and were influencing the game in a way not seen in the first 10 minutes. We were looking menacing on the counter-attack as well as in tighter situations, with Eden Hazard leaving Vidic and Rafael for dead with one dart inside the area.
It wasn’t all Chelsea though, and Adnan Januzaj hit a ball across the face of the Chelsea goal that on another day would have found a colleague for a tap-in.
On 34 minutes Young was rightly booked for tugging back Ramires who was flying past him into the Man United half as the Blues tried to spring another counter-attack.
The visitors had the better of a five-minute spell as half-time approached, culminating in Welbeck spurning a very good chance as the Blues defence failed to cut out a low cross. From around about the penalty spot the England striker gave Cech a chance and the clean-sheet record-holder made the save.
On 41 minutes the Blues ripped through the Man U defences with Willian and Hazard big players in the move, but when Eto’o’s cross deflected kindly to Oscar in front of goal, his acrobatic overhead effort was off-target.
The pressure on the Man United goal remained. David Luiz had no luck with a free-kick but following a corner, Ramires slipped a good pass forward to Gary Cahill in space and when the ball was played across low, Eto’o was there to apply the sharp finished touch that has been one of the hallmarks of his glittering career. There were 44 minutes played and the game was going very nicely indeed.
The last time Chelsea had a 2-0 lead at half-time at home to Man United, we went on to win 5-0, back in 1999 when it was Vialli v Ferguson.
With Mourinho and Moyes now at the helms, we took a step towards another big win with just three minutes of the second period played.
Willian took a corner from the right and Cahill, always such a threat at set-pieces, escaped to thump a header goalwards. De Gea just about kept that out but Eto’o was almost on his toes to complete the first Chelsea hat-trick since Fernando Torres against QPR almost two years ago.
Valencia was booked for a foul on Azpilicueta as his side tried to stem the tide but Ramires and Hazard both found space to shoot over, the second via a deflection.
Mikel came on for Oscar midway through the half with Ramires pushed out wide on the right. Rafael had been able to find space a cross from that flank just before that change.
Welbeck got his head to a corner but thankfully it cleared the far post and then Hernandez put pressure on Cech as the keeper miss-controlled a pass back, only to get turned on the line by the Chelsea keeper who then cleared.
On 77 minutes, Moyes’s side did pull a goal back, substitute Hernandez sliding in to score at the back post after Jones had turned Welbeck’s centre on-target.
Now the game was a test of Chelsea nerve. Terry was in the right spot to clear as Valencia pulled a cross back into the danger zone.
Torres had come on for Eto’o straight after the Man United goal and now he was joined by Matic who came on for Willian. The shape was 4-1-4-1 with David Luiz the deepest midfielder.
A late head of steam for the visitors failed to materialise. Instead indiscipline took over with Vidic sent off for chopping down Hazard in the middle of the park, and then Rafael was booked for a foul on Cahill that could have been punished more severely too.
The final whistle blew soon after. It was time for ‘One Step Beyond’ to send the Stamford Bridge crowd, who had witnessed the beating of Liverpool in the last game here, home happy.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1):Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires, D Luiz; Willian (Matic 85), Oscar (Mikel 67), Hazard; Eto’o (Torres 77).
Unused subs Schwarzer, Cole, Lampard, Mata.
Scorers Eto’o 16, 44, 47.
Booked David Luiz 18
Man United (4-4-4-1):De Gea; Rafael, Vidic (c), Evans, Evra(Smalling 48); Valencia, Carrick, Jones, Young (Hernandez 56); Januzaj; Welbeck.
Unused subs Lindegaard, Fletcher, Cleverley, Giggs, Kagawa,
Scorer Hernandez 77.
Sent-off Vidic 90+2.
Booked Young 34, Valencia 54, Rafael 90+4.
Referee Phil Dowd