By Tom Kington at the Stadio Olimpico
Hernán Crespo came back to haunt his former club as Chelsea FC underlined their position as UEFA Champions League Group G leaders with an emphatic 4-0 away victory against S.S. Lazio.
With four goals from four different players, the London club gave a masterclass in individual talent that leaves Lazio struggling to pass the group stage. The sides lived up to their reputations for sparkling football in the first half, with each team instigating a series of end-to-end counterattacks, so it was surprising that the first goal should come with a simple tap-in from a deflected free-kick.
The left flanks immediately proved fruitful for both teams, with Lazio's Giuseppe Favalli feeding balls up to Dejan Stankovic to cross, while Wayne Bridge made a series of dangerous overlapping runs for Chelsea. Fabio Liverani in the Lazio midfield made good on his word to exploit spaces in the Chelsea defence with fast balls over the top, while back-heels and balls through legs were a frequent spectacle.
Former Lazio favourite Juan Sebastián Verón was also finding space to seek out Crespo - and it was Verón's dangerous free-kick which goalkeeper Matteo Sereni parried to give Crespo an easy goal from point-blank range. The Argentinian promptly started the hunt for a second, testing Sereni from further out and even trying a bicycle-kick from a corner as his team-mates found room to feed the attack.
Lazio responded with nervously mistimed tackles which brought tit-for-tat responses, but quality won out as the sides brought the half back to the boil with more end-to-end attacks. Stankovic was the prime mover in a Lazio fightback, throwing himself at the Chelsea defence and nearly connecting with a Simone Inzaghi knock-down in the 38th minute before volleying smartly a minute later and seeing another thunderous effort deflected wide.
But Chelsea saw the gaps as Lazio pushed for an equaliser and Crespo was able to test Sereni twice in time added on before the interval, the keeper producing an excellent dive to deny the Argentinian after Adrian Mutu fed him on the counterattack.
Lazio on top
Lazio attacked from the whistle as the game restarted, Stankovic again forcing a diving save from Carlo Cudicini, who tipped around Bernardo Corradi's follow-up effort. Not even Sinisa Mihajlovic's 52nd-minute red card - after two challenges on Damien Duff - could dampen the Lazio pressure as the hosts made Chelsea look like they were down to ten men.
Stankovic tested Cudicini again after Inzaghi had held off the defence to slip the ball through, while the keeper had be at his most alert three minutes later to tip over a fierce drive from Corradi after more sustained Lazio pressure. The tide turned after Jesper Grønkjær, on for Crespo, shot wide on the break before fellow substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen added a close-range second following a dinking run across the face of the area by Frank Lampard.
As the fight went out out of the hosts, Chelsea could afford to turn on the style and showcase their individual talent. Duff beat four opponents before scoring the game's finest goal in the 75th minute and Lampard doubled his tally over the two games by knocking in the rebound after Gudjohnsen's shot was saved ten minutes from time. Despite Glen Johnson's late dismissal for kicking the ball away, there was no doubting this was Chelsea's night.