Samuel Eto'o's brilliant three strikes thumbled once powerhouse Manchester United at Stamford Bridge 3-1 this afternoon.
United scored through substitute Javier Hernandez with 12 minutes of the match to go, but were in truth out though by Jose Mourinho's sublime tactics and finally from a performance from a Chelsea striker worthy off the name.
United's misery was compounded by the late dismissal of their skipper Nemanja Vidic for cutting down Eden Hazard.
Mourinho, who secured his 100th Premier League win made the surprise selection of Serbia defender Bransilav Ivanovic, despite saying that the right-back was still working his way back to fitness.
But this was Eto'o's day. His clinical strikes, the first after six minutes came after an opening period of United dominance. His second and third came in a devastating four-minute spell either side of half-time that completely knocked the stuffing out of Red Devils.
Only Chelsea's complacency gave the visitors any hope. But Hernandez's opportunistic strike was too little, too late.
Chelsea remain close on the heels of Leaders Arsenal and Manchester City in third place.
Manchester United started like a greyhound out of the trap! forcing Chelsea back.
So it was no surprise when Danny Welbeck produced a fine one-two on the edge of the Chelsea area after just two minutes with Ashley Young. Thankfully for the Blues, Petr Cech was quick to react to the slick move and managed to kick Young's left footed shot out to safety.
While the home side struggled to get a foothold in the game, they did finally have an effort on goal, on 10 minutes. Some sloppy play in the middle of the park allowed Ramires to take control of the ball, inch forward and let fly from 20 yards. But the right-footed shot was weak and David de Gea had no problem snaffling the shot.
Incredibly and totally against the run of play, the Londoners took the lead. Building up quietly on the left, the ball was fed to Samuel Eto'o. From the edge of the penalty area, the Cameroon striker took a speculative left-foot shot. The ball zipped off the foot of Michael Carrick and looped high and wide into the far left hand corner of his net.
David Luiz was the first player to enter Philip Dpwd's book with a needless and cynical check on Antonio Valencia.
The game ebbed and flowed from this point on and, on 26 minutes, a dithering Oscar allowed himself to be dispossessed by Patrice Evra and the left back raced clear finally arrowing a powerful left-footer, but it only found Cech's side-netting.
Livewire Adnan Januzai twitted David Luiz's bolo with brilliant skill on the byline on 31 minutes and he can count himself very unluckily that his daisy-cutter was not met by any in-running United players. The absence of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, felt most keenly from this positions.
Welbeck should have scored seven minutes from the break when a byline cross by Young eluded JohnTerry. The England hit man took one touch on the six-yard box, but under pressure from Cahill failed to get the strongest impact on the ball and Cech was equally well positioned to hack it clear.
The Blues also could have doubled their lead two minutes later. Brilliant play by Eden Hazard to hold off two United player across the penalty area. A spark flick to Eto'o saw the strike cup the ball across goal where Oscar passed up and tried an acrobatic bicycle kick. Unfortunately for the Brazil midfielder he was off target.
However that was quickly forgotten as the seconds ticked down to the whistle for half-time, up popped centre-back Gary Cahill just inside the Inited penalty area. The defender cut the ball to his left and Eto'o, the arch predator, was quickest to react and planted a firm, right-footer low past a deflated De Gea.
Neither side made a change at half-time, although United boss David Moyes sent his charges out early and they looked somewhat forlorn standing around, without a ball.
The Red Devils looked even more forlorn three minutes after the restart as they went further behind. A Willian corner was met full on the head by Cahill. De Gea did well to get his body to the ball, but it bounced invitingly to Eto'o who stabbed home from close range to notch up his first Chelsea hat-trick.
Shots by Willian and Hazard soon followed as confidence oozed out of the Blues shirts. Jose Mourinho, sensing that he need not embarrass his opposite number anymore and to shore up the game, brought on Mikel for Oscar on 67 minutes.
Shoring up the game was the idea, but that command was not handed out to Cech, who decided on 70 minutes to play needless football with the ball, on his line and against substitute Javier Hernandez.
Cech was lucky to escape with his clean sheet intact as the striker was inches away from tapping home. Cech instead clawed that ball away from the now prone forward and cleared successfully,someone he should have done without much drama in the first place.
With 11 minutes on the clock, United finally breeched the Chelsea rearguard. Perhaps overconfidence was in place for he boys from SW6, but United, aided by clever work by Welbeck on the right byline cut the ball across goal and Hernandez was on hand at the far post, to slam the ball home.
Mourinho instantly replaced tiring Eto'o with Fernando Torres. This was soon to be followed by the second debut for Serbia midfielder Nemamja Matic, who was resigned for the Blues from Benfica earlier in the week. Willian made way.
Matic was sold to the Portugal giants for about £2.5million as a makeweight in the deal which brought David Luiz to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea forked out £21million to bring him back - a very expensive finishing school is that Benfica.
Hernandez had a speculative header easily saved by Cech as the blues shut up shop properly this time and secured three vital Premier League points. They even had the luxury of watching Nemanja Vidic receive a straight red card for scything down Hazard deep into added time.
Next up for the Blues is an FA Cup tie, at home to Stoke City, at the Bridge next Sunday.
Teams: Chelsea, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires, David Luiz; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Eto’o.
Subs, Schwarzer, Cole, Lampard, Torres, Mata, Mikel, Matic.
Manchester United: De Gea, Rafel, Evra, Jones, Evans, Vidic, Carrick, Young, Welbeck, Valencia, Januzaj
Subs, Lindegaard, Giggs, Smalling, Hernandez, Cleverley, Fletcher, Kagawa.
Referee Philip Dowd
Jose Mourinho feels that his side can improve but believes that Manchester United's chances of success are slim and the best they can hope for is to finish in the top four.
Mourinho also does not believe the race for the title is a three-horse race between Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.
"No, the distance is short between us and Spurs and Liverpool - six points," he said.
"it's not just three.
"I am nobody to say that United are out of the race. they would say 'who are you to say that.'
"But I don't think Moyes would be upset with me if I say that 14 points to the leaders is difficult.
Can they recover to one of the top three? They can, but to get to the top will require all three to have a collapse. For the title, it will be difficult for them to win the title, I hope that they beat all of the others and finish in the top four.
Mourinho had mixed feeling about the game, but not that they deserved all three points.
"I'm delighted with the three points," he said.
"I love it when my players becomes special and score a hat trick and against Manu United. We deserved to win, but not to be 2-0 up at half-time.
"They started the match better than us and were unlucky that we scored in that period.
After that, the game was different and we controlled the first half.
At three nil, the game was killed off but Untied kept coming.
"(David) Moyes made changes to reduce the scoreline and at 3-1 I felt my players were tired. We were pressing high up the pitch and my attacking players had big distances to run.
They were still dangerous.
"We lost a lot of balls early on. They put pressure on John Terry. My midfielders were losing a lot of balls which was unusual, United looked strong."
On a positive note, he said: "My team can identify when we are better and so can go and kill the game and also when the opposition was better, we become compact and solid. The players work for each other.
"Today we had our first shot, one goal, second shot another goal - everything was going for us."
Samuel Eto'o scored a hat-trick but is was a close decision about him even playing admits Mourinho.
He explained that Torres's game was not suited to playing this United side.
"Torres is very dangerous with space," he said. "He is more powerful than Samuel, but Man United are not coming here to give me spaces behind their defence. They came here to be compact. Jones and Carrick in front of Vidic and Evans, so Samuel has more technical ability and is good in small spaces. His movement in small spaces is different than Nando's so, it was a difficult decision to play Eto'o as Nando is scoring goals. But my feeling for this game that Samuel was better adapted.
"Torres injured his lateral ligament in his knee he will be out for weeks. So it's time for Demba Ba. He has worked hard and the next matches are for him and Eto'o."
On the red card for Vidic, late on and the even later booking for Rafael, Mourinho said: "When players are frustrated, things like this can happen. Maybe it should be an orange card," he laughed
"Rafael was just frustrated too. But I think the referee Phil Dowd was good.
"I tell my players to help the referee and not make it complicated. But it looks like other managers tell their players the exact opposite. I'm not speaking about Moyes but other managers who make referee's life very difficult. And because of them, referees make wrong decisions and then they are criticised. Maybe we need another managers' meeting like we had in the summer, because some of them have forgotten what was said in the meeting. Maybe I am naive to criticise my players because other managers don't criticise their players, they cry when it's not going in their favour. The pundits are their friends."
Mourinho is the fastest manager to win 100 matches in Premier League history, but he dismisses any notion that it is remotely important.
"I don't care about records, or how many matches we don't lose at home. I just want to win the next match," he said.
"It's a co-incidence that my first match was against Man United and now my 100th was against them too. Their previous record holder as a Man United manager (Sir Alex Ferguson).
"What was important to me was that these 100 matches gave me 300 points for Chelsea."
Mourinho still believes that Manchester City will win the title but that his side will have their day.
"Chelsea' potential is that we have to improve, I want better form them," he said.
"I want to control the game from the beginning. But we kept calm. But they are good kids and good players. And the older ones like John Terry isfantastic. He took a couple of balls in the game which could be goals. He is working really hard. But I was close to a heart attack with one stupid action by Petr Cech at the back. It wasn't just Cech but the guy who passed the ball to him. Cech dribbling on the goal-line, woah,"