If reports of Manchester City’s demise in the title race before Christmas were premature then the ones about the long-term future of Maurizio Sarri as Chelsea manager may be proven completely accurate in the coming weeks.
Sergio Aguero’s magnificent hat-trick — his second of the week after he plundered one against Arsenal last Sunday — will rightly grab some of the headlines.
But as Raheem Sterling helped himself to a couple, Ilkay Gundogan added one and City returned to the top of the Premier League, bolstering their goal difference to a healthy tune in the process, this emphatic embarrassment of a defeat arguably said more about Chelsea than their hosts.
Beaten 4-0 at Bournemouth on their last away outing, Chelsea this time recorded their biggest loss since a 7-0 thrashing at Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in April 1991.
If Sarri was brought to Stamford Bridge to return them to the glories of former years, the early 90s was presumably not what the club’s trigger-happy owner Roman Abramovich had in mind when he brought him to the club last summer.
But what to say about City? Just when they were displaying their fallibility — a first league defeat of the season at Chelsea at the start of December, inexplicable losses to Palace and Leicester and, more recently, at Newcastle — Pep Guardiola revitalises his side, inspiring them to the sort of giddy heights that we saw here for 90 pulsating minutes that demanded your attention for every second.
That was certainly the case from the fourth minute when Kevin De Bruyne’s quickly-taken free-kick caught out Chelsea’s somnolent defence, Bernardo Silva darted into the box and crossed for Sterling to drive an unstoppable shot into the back of the visitors’ goal.
Bernardo almost carved out a second goal four minutes later, brilliant close control in the area ending with a cross to the far post where Aguero, implausibly, shot wide with a gaping goal before him.
The Abu Dhabi royal family would have wagered a handful of their oil fields on the Argentinian finding the net from such an opportunity, especially bearing in mind he started the afternoon one goal behind Eric Brook and Tommy Johnson in City’s all-time league goalscoring charts.
“I don’t know, it sometimes happens but it is important to get the next one so I’m very happy,” smiled Aguero after the game. “The important thing after that is to keep the ball but more important is to win. I hope to continue in the same way. It’s important to get the goals you see and to win.”
Indeed, if the cliche about the best strikers having that ability to tune out the mistakes and focus on the next chance holds true then Aguero could have been expected to respond and respond he did.
Five minutes later, he started a move just inside the Chelsea half, exchanged passes with young left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko and advanced before curling an incredibly powerful and precise effort into the top corner.
By the 19th minute, Chelsea were heading towards full meltdown. If the Bournemouth reverse was bad — their biggest defeat in over 20 years — this had the makings of a far bigger catastrophe.
Just to prove it, City’s third goal was self-inflicted by the visitors after David Luiz headed clear a Zinchenko ball into the area and Ross Barkley considered it wise to try and head the ball back to his goalkeeper when Aguero stood between him and Kepa. The ball, inevitably landed at the feet of Aguero, who swept in his 159th league goal for City — a new record by one.
The worst was not yet over, even as Chelsea looked to find a foothold amid the chaos. On 25 minutes, Antonio Rudiger tackled Aguero — for once — in the Chelsea area but watched in dismay as the ball broke for Gundogan who sent it sailing past him, and the keeper, from 20 yards.
It was magnificent stuff, Aguero and any number of his team-mates virtually unplayable, and by the time the striker headed against the Chelsea bar early in the second half, Chelsea were in damage limitation mode.
Not that it made that much difference. After 55 minutes, Sterling jinked into the Chelsea area, Cesar Azpilicueta made an agricultural lunge at him, brought him down and Aguero thumped in his hat-trick goal from the penalty spot.
There might have been more, but for Kepa, who punched clear a spectacular De Bruyne free-kick and denied substitute Gabriel Jesus after he was played clean through by Sterling.
But, finally, Chelsea folded for a sixth and final time 10 minutes from the end. Substitute David Silva threaded a magnificent pass inside the full-back, Zinchenko raced on and his cross picked out Sterling who calmly converted from six yards out.
It was a goal that summed up City’s dominance and Chelsea’s misery.
MAN CITY (4-1-4-1): Ederson 7; Walker 8, Stones 7, Laporte 7, Zinchenko 7; Fernandinho 7 (D Silva 75, 7); B Silva 8, De Bruyne 7 (Mahrez 68, 6), Gundogan 8, Stering 8; Aguero 9 (Jesus 64, 6).
Subs not used: Muric, Danilo, Sane, Otamendi.
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Kepa 7; Azpilicueta 5, Rudiger 6, Luiz 5, Alonso 4 (Emerson 72, 5); Kante 6, Jorginho 5, Barkley 4 (Kovacic 52, 5); Pedro 5 (Loftus-Cheek 64, 6), Higuain 7, Hazard 6.
Subs not used: Caballero, Giroud, Willian, Christensen
Referee: M Dean 7