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EPL: Rampaging Chelsea eye Norwich demolition; United are at Newcastle

Associated Press
Dec 25, 2012 at 05:40pm IST

London: Chelsea's free-scoring form is slowly chipping away at the enmity towards new manager Rafa Benitez from the club's fans.

The 8-0 demolition of Aston Villa on Sunday showcased Chelsea's attacking prowess, and dispelled some of the fears about the dour football Benitez could introduce after replacing Roberto Di Matteo at Stamford Bridge last month.

"There won't be one of our fans watching who didn't enjoy the performance and hopefully we can continue," Chelsea defender Gary Cahill said. "The manager said he is going to keep working hard and doing his best and as players that is what we try to do, and I am sure we will win people over with performances like that."

Rampaging Chelsea eye Norwich City demolition

While seven points behind Manchester City and 11 adrift of Manchester United, Chelsea have a game in hand after beating Villa last weekend.

The club record-equaling league win on Sunday was secured despite being Chelsea's fifth match in 15 days, including a grueling Club World Cup trip to Japan that was followed by a 5-1 League Cup win at Leeds.

Now the team has another five games to negotiate in 15 days during the Christmas-New Year program, starting Wednesday at Norwich.

Norwich embarked on a 10-match unbeaten run after losing 4-1 at Chelsea in October, including wins over Manchester United and Arsenal, but was beaten by West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.

"They have great attacking options - we experienced that at their place a couple of months ago," Norwich manager Chris Hughton said. "At the moment Chelsea are on a high and (Benitez) will be judged on that."

Sitting third, Chelsea could be back in the title race if the resurgence continues. While seven points behind Manchester City and 11 adrift of Manchester United, Chelsea have a game in hand after beating Villa to end a stretch of more than two months without a home win in the league.

"We showed what we are capable of and it is just a matter of consistency now," Cahill said. "We have a lot of young players but on a day like Sunday you can really see the quality in the squad."

Most importantly for Chelsea, Fernando Torres has been rejuvenated under fellow Spaniard Benitez, who first brought him to England when he was in charge at Liverpool.

The striker has netted seven goals in his last six games - all under Benitez - having scored only seven in the opening four months of the season.

"As soon as he started scoring goals, he had confidence - and for a striker it is key," Benitez said. "The team is doing well so he has more chances."

David Luiz is another player who is thriving under Benitez. The Brazilian defender was among the seven goal scorers on Sunday and produced a vibrant display when he was redeployed from central defense to midfield.

Luiz scored from a free kick as he did in the two Champions League group stage wins over Nordsjaelland though the side failed to advance to the knockout portion of the competition.

"During training I try different things, different movements - it's a natural technique, I've not studied it," Luiz said. "When I was younger, I would always try to kick the ball like that and, when you become a more experienced player, you get more confidence to do it."

Chelsea's mission is to keep the confidence flowing through the team just as they did in the early weeks of the season when they topped the standings.

The current leaders, United, head to Newcastle on Wednesday fresh from seeing their five-match winning run end with a 1-1 draw at Swansea.

Newcastle, though, have won just two of their last 12 games and are 14th after finishing an impressive fifth last season and haven't won at Old Trafford since 1972.

But United defender Jonny Evans remains wary of the power in the Newcastle strike forced provided by Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse.

"When the ball is floating around in the box, they beat people in the air," Evans said. "And their goal record is what got Newcastle to where they were last year."

United's lead over Manchester City was trimmed to just four points over the weekend.

City, who needed a stoppage-time goal from Gareth Barry to beat bottom-place Reading on Saturday, head to Sunderland on Wednesday as the season reaches its halfway mark.

Boxing Day would usually see every Premier League team in action, but Arsenal's match against West Ham was postponed due to a strike by London Underground workers threatening to disrupt transport in the city.

Arsenal have a loose grip on the fourth Champions League qualification place, with Everton, Tottenham and West Brom only behind on goal difference as they prepare to face relegation-threatened teams.

Everton host Wigan, who lost to Arsenal on Saturday, Tottenham are at Aston Villa, and West Brom face Queens Park Rangers, who are just a point off the bottom of the standings.

Bottom-place Reading host Swansea, while Southampton, who are only out of the drop zone on goal difference, are at Fulham.

Stoke striker Michael Owen could return from two months out with a hamstring injury to face former club Liverpool, who thumped Fulham 4-0 on Saturday to rise to eighth.

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