It was eight — the goals shared between seven scorers — but it could easily have been double figures and with his side now back up to third, 11 points behind leaders Manchester United with a game in hand, his contention that Chelsea remain legitimate title challengers looks far less fanciful than it did a short while ago.
First-half goals from Fernando Torres, David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic put Chelsea in control with Frank Lampard, Ramires (two), Oscar and Eden Hazard also on target while Lucas Piazon missed a penalty.
Summing up a day when celebration replaced the poison that has swirled around Stamford Bridge so often this season, and in particular since Benitez replaced Roberto Di Matteo, warm was the reception given to Lampard as the Chelsea captain left the field shortly after marking his 500th Premier League start with the goal that established him as the club’s leading scorer in the top-flight.
Lampard’s future remains uncertain with the 34-year-old yet to receive an offer of a new contract that will keep him at the club beyond the end of this season, but he did his claims no harm with a well struck drive that put his side four-up midway through the second half.
“It means a lot,” said Lampard. “The starts are great, I’ve been very fortunate to play for a great club and the managers and team-mates I’ve had, I’m very proud of that. The goals record, I’m very proud to beat such a great man as Bobby Tambling, who is an absolute legend and a lovely bloke.”
A reality check seemed harsh on such a day, but in Lampard’s case, necessary. “I’m under contract here and I love playing here so I’m going to continue game by game and just be pleased to be fit,” he added. “I really enjoyed this match and just want to keep enjoying my football.
“I believe I have a lot in me to go. The club’s position is it’s position. I don’t want to get too deep into that. I’m here to play football and show people what I can do and I’ll continue to do that.”
That issue can be parked for another day. Yesterday, Benitez’s analysis focused on his satisfaction at seeing his side’s eight goals shared around including one for a resurgent Torres who has now struck seven goals in six games and is unrecognisable from the player who struggled so badly for form and confidence earlier in the season.
“The team, as a team, is attacking and not depending upon one or two players,” said the manager. “That is good news and hopefully we can do the same on Wednesday. We had other chances. The other team were suffering. It was fine for us — I feel sorry for them — but I was impressed with the way they were playing, their shape, but the difference was the experience of the players.”
Aston Villa’s current line-up is the youngest the club has ever fielded in the Premier Club and it showed.
Paul Lambert’s side have made great strides in recent weeks but that progress quickly unravelled and the manager must rebuild confidence quickly.
Torres set Chelsea on their way in the third minute with an exceptional header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross. Luiz added a second in the 28th minute with a curling free-kick and when Ivanovic headed the third in the 34th minute, the outcome of the contest was already decided.
The second half continued in the same vein, with Villa keeper Brad Guzan briefly stemming the flow before Lampard hit the fourth. Ramires made it five with a slotted finish in the 75th minute and would repeat the feat in added time.
In the meantime, Oscar converted from the penalty after being fouled by Chris Herd, and Hazard had conjured a fine individual goal.
“I’m not going to sit here and make excuses... we were well beaten, second best all over the pitch,” said Lambert. “We’ll go back to the training ground, train tomorrow and Tuesday, and go again. You go into every game thinking you can win. The first goal put us on the back foot, two minutes gone with a great header... but football shouldn’t surprise you. They’re a really young side. Sometimes getting beat tells you a lot about people.”
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Cech 6; Azpilicueta 7, Ivanovic 7, Cahill 7, Cole 7; Luiz 8, Lampard 8 (Ramires 61, 8), Moses 7, Mata 8 (Piazon 74, 6), Hazard 8; Torres 9 (Oscar 67,7).
ASTON VILLA (5-4-1): Guzan 7; Lowton 6, Herd 5, Clark 6, Baker 4, Lichaj 4 (Bennett 56, 6); Westwood 5 (Ireland 56, 6), Bannan 5 (Bowery 80, 6), Weimann 5, Holman 4; Benteke 5.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).