Juan Mata starred on his full debut as Chelsea cruised past a toothless Sunderland side despite a late scare.
John Terry’s measured side-foot shot gave the Blues the lead after the hosts failed to clear their lines when Mata’s free-kick hit the outside of the post.
Daniel Sturridge’s sublime backheel finish when running through one on one with keeper Simon Mignolet made it 2-0.
Ji Dong-Won slotted home in injury time to give the Black Cats a glimmer of hope but Chelsea held on.
It was a nervy final few seconds but even the most diehard Sunderland supporter would have struggled to argue a draw would have been a fair result.
Sturridge’s outrageous effort when confronted by the onrushing Mignolet was the stand-out moment in an impressive Blues performance, but Mata’s influence was the key to their victory.
The Spaniard was the creative hub of everything the Blues did, demanding the ball at every opportunity and giving a dazzling display, full of one-touch football, neat passes and crucially, a telling final ball.
Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas has openly talked of the need to inject more pace and creativity and Mata granted his wish, playing with urgency and sparking off all that was good about the visitors as they secured a third win in four league games.
Deadline-day signing Raul Meireles was as influential as his fellow midfielder, setting up Sturridge’s goal with a fine long pass, but it was Mata who caught the eye.
Chelsea and Mata started brightly but Sunderland striker Nicklas Bendtner had the first chance of the game only to glance his header wide from a teasing Sebastian Larsson free-kick.
Apart from that effort – and a Stephane Sessegnon strike that was beaten away by the returning Petr Cech late in the half – Chelsea dominated the first period.
Nicholas Anelka smashed a shot wide after a swift break and also tested Mignolet with a fierce shot, while Ramires curled a shot wide after a powerful surge.
But it was defender Terry who opened the scoring, coolly finishing at the second attempt from Sturridge’s excellent cross as Chelsea kept the pressure on after Mata’s strike hit the woodwork.
Any hopes of a Sunderland revival seemed over as Sturridge, preferred up front to £50m man Fernando Torres, made it 2-0 six minutes after break.
The game petered out somewhat after that, although substitute Florent Malouda and Anelka both had chances to extend the lead.
Sunderland lacked pace up front and could have done with a nippy forward like the departing Asamoah Gyan to partner Bendtner.
The Dane typified the home side, showing plenty of endeavour but they looked powerless to prevent a second consecutive home defeat as Chelsea went on to record their 13th win in 14 games against the Black Cats despite Dong-Won’s last-gasp effort.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce:
“It was very difficult against a very good Chelsea team. They had terrific possession of the ball and we spent that much energy trying to get it back. They were excellent in possession of the ball. We will play against lesser teams than that thankfully.
“When we had it, we gave it away too cheaply and that made for a very difficult afternoon.
“But for all their possession both their goals were poor from our point of view.”
Chelsea manager Andre-Villas Boas:
“It went very well for us in terms of what we want to achieve, not that we haven’t tried to do it before, but it just didn’t happen in the other three games.
“Fortunately, we were able to play the passing game that relates more to how we train, and the team played very, very well. I am very happy with the display.
“The 2-1, of course, is avoidable and that brought an edge to the last three minutes, but we can only say that Chelsea deserved to win and we were very consistent in the first and second halves.
“I am very happy with the efforts of everybody.”