Chelsea scored five as visitors Stoke decided to save their firepower for other matches in a disappointingly one-sided contest at Stamford Bridge on the day before New Year’s Eve.
With each goal coming from a different player, it demonstrated the breadth of the Blues’ talent just as much as it underlined the fragility of City’s defence, which lacked loanee Kurt Zouma.
Mark Hughes had kept creative threats Joe Allen, Zherdon Shaquiri and Peter Crouch on the bench, and Chelsea romped to a three-goal lead inside 25 minutes thanks to an Antonio Rudiger header from a Willian free kick on three minutes, a Danny Drinkwater volley on nine, and a Pedro slammer (again set up by Willian) on 24.
Oddly, it should have been 3-1 by the interval, with a perfectly good goal by Mama Biram Diouf incorrectly ruled out for offside.
But – after a lull – the relentless attacks paid off again in the second half, with Willian converting a rather harshly awarded penalty in the 73rd minute after he fell in the box, and sub Davide Zappacosta completing the rout at the death, after dancing into the centre of the field and letting fly past Jack Butland.
The most memorable moment was Drinkwater’s volley from the edge of the area; it rifled home, and the genuine warmth of his team-mates’ embraces afterwards emphasised his understated dressing room popularity.
Tony Conte is still experimenting to find his best central midfield pairing ahead of the journey to Arsenal on Wednesday evening.
Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard were rested against Stoke (whose fans were a credit to the club, continuing a barrage of singing throughout the game), but Conte is not yet convinced that the Drinkwater/Kante combo that worked so well at Leicester City is the right mix.
Fabregas can expect to play a role at the Emirates in midweek against his old club, and Hazard will return to a front position as Chelsea begin to turn up the heat to persuade the Belgian to sign a longer deal at the Bridge.