Alvaro Morata smashed a hat-trick as champions Chelsea ran riot at Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium this afternoon, scoring four without reply.
The Spain hitman, a £58million summer signing from Real Madrid looks every inch the replacement for Diego Costa who finally ended his beleaguered and sour-tasting Chelsea career this week and will officially join Atletico Madrid in January.
The Blues remain in third place with both Manchester clubs ahead of them.
But this was no vintage free-flowing play by Chelsea. They had to absorb tremendous amounts of pressure and did so manfully. Thibaut Courtois had little to do at his ed of the pitch.
Seventy two seconds in and Chelsea score. A brilliant long ball by Cesar Azpilicueta, cuts the Stoke defence in half. Alvaro Morata races clear and cooly slots home past Jack Butland to shock the home side.
Azpilicuta was called into action three minutes later, this time his dfensive duties were required as he hacked away Mame Diouf, goal-bound shot.
From then on, it was all Stoke in terms of possession, but the home side failed to trouble a chelsea rearguard, that could afford to leave skipper Gary Cahill on the bench.
In fact, against the run of play and latching onto a terrible back pass by Darren Fletcher, Pedro snatched the ball and thumped a beauty of a right-footer past a desperately diving in vain Butland to put the champions 2-0 up with 15 minutes left of the first half.
Soup, almost snatched one back for then hosts after erratic Chelsea defending allowed the striker ti attempt an audacious overhead kick three minutes from the end of the half.
Fortunately for Chelsea, the ball inched just wider of Courtois’s right post.
There were no changes at half time. Marcos Alsonso received a needless yellow card for a challenge on the halfway line five minutes in. And was lucky two minutes later on another needless challenge not to get a second yellow. Joe Allen flashed then ball over the Chelsea crossbar after the resultant free kick was headed out of the Chelsea penalty area.
Antonio Conte had had enough of Alsonso’s lack of concentration on 58 minutes and replaced him with skipper Cahill.
After a couple of minutes, where Stoke brought on peter Crouch, Conte switched Cahill and Rudiger who had operated on the left of the back three.
Quite how Fletcher failed to score on 70m minutes when a brilliant free-kick by Xherdan Shaqiuri fell to the former Manchester United midfielder in the six-yard box. A combination of ball hitting chest then shin saw it drift past the Cj=sea goal.
Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard entered the fray fro Pedro and Willian.
Chelsea again, against the run of play grabbed number three through the blistering pace of Morata on 78 minutes.
Ex-Blue Glen Johnson was dispossessed just inside his own half, Morata collected it, outpaced a chasing Johnson and then a flagging Fletcher before clipping an inch-perfect angled byline chip past Butland and the ball nestled in the back of the net.
His hat-trick came four minutes later. A deft chip by Fabregas on the edge of the Stoke penalty era saw haze and chest the ball down to in-running Morata who tapped the ball into the empty net.
Chelsea will have the chance to close the gap on Manchester City when they come face-to-face next weekend at Stamford Bridge.
Before then, it’s a little matter of an away trip to Madrid where they face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Chelsea, Courtois, Rudiger, Alonso, kante, Morata, Pedro, Bakayoko, Moses, Willian, Christensen, Azpilicueta,
Subs: Caballero, Fabregas, Hazard, Musonda, Zappacosta, Batshuayi, Cahill
Butland, Pieters, Allen, Johnson, Choupo-Moting, Jesé, Martins Indi, Diouf, Shaquiri, Fletcher, Ramadan
Subs: Grant, Berahino, Timon, Afellay, Adam, Crouch, Souttar