Sergio Aguero scored a record-equalling hat-trick as Manchester City powered back to the top of the Premier League with a sensational 6-0 thrashing of Chelsea.
The prolific Argentinian joined Alan Shearer on 11 Premier League trebles as the champions returned to their ruthless best in a one-sided encounter at the Etihad Stadium.
Most of the damage came in a whirlwind opening 25 minutes, with Aguero hitting his first two of the afternoon between strikes from Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan.
That established Aguero as City’s record league goalscorer, surpassing the 158 goals of Eric Brook and Tommy Johnson, and he later extended his tally to 160 by completing his treble from the spot.
Sterling put the seal on the rout by adding his second 10 minutes from time.
Aguero should even have had more, having missed a sitter in the early stages and headed against bar on a dismal afternoon for Chelsea, whose manager Maurizio Sarri headed straight down the tunnel at full-time.
While City responded in the perfect manner to Liverpool’s victory on Saturday, Chelsea looked far from the top-four side they aspire to be. The loss left them outside the Champions League places and the pressure is mounting on manager Sarri.
It was Chelsea’s heaviest defeat since losing 7-0 to Nottingham Forest in 1991.
It began badly as they were caught napping after just four minutes. Kevin De Bruyne released Bernardo Silva down the right with a cleverly-taken free-kick and the Portuguese cut back for Sterling to smash home.
Aguero should have doubled the lead almost immediately but remarkably missed from two yards. Silva had weaved through the area to set up a gilt-edged opportunity but the Argentinian uncharacteristically poked wide.
Manager Pep Guardiola sank to his knees in frustration but he was soon celebrating as Aguero made amends in sensational fashion. The striker played a one-two with Oleksandr Zinchenko outside the area and then unleashed a ferocious shot that flew in from 25 yards.
Aguero’s second was gifted to him. David Luiz headed clear but Ross Barkley inexplicably headed back into the danger area. Aguero was lurking in the six-yard box and punished the former Everton midfielder with a sharp turn and shot.
Chelsea hardly had time to take stock before they conceded again, with Gundogan slotting home a neat shot from the edge after a poor clearance from Antonio Rudiger.
City eased off for the remainder of the first half, and Gonzalo Higuain even managed to test Ederson with a sharp volley, but the hosts clicked back into gear after the break.
Aguero was inches away from completing his 15th City hat-trick when he headed against the woodwork from a De Bruyne cross. He did not have to wait much longer, however, as Sterling was felled in the box by Cesar Azpilicueta. Aguero stepped up and sent Kepa Arrizabalaga the wrong way from the spot.
There seemed to be no let up from City with De Bruyne firing a free-kick at Kepa and Aguero shooting into the side-netting.
Sterling wrapped up a brilliant afternoon’s work after substitute David Silva opened up the Chelsea defence yet again and Zinchenko picked out the England international.
City supporters goaded Chelsea by telling them to bring Jose Mourinho back and, after such a hammering, it may not be long before Stamford Bridge managerial speculation is ramped up again.
Boss Claude Puel has welcomed Tottenham’s interest in James Maddison because it proves his methods are working – but insists he should stay at Leicester.
Spurs hold a long-standing interest in the midfielder and have again been linked with a summer move.
Maddison is in his first season at Leicester after joining from Norwich for £24million and has five goals in 25 games, earning a senior England call in October.
Leicester face Spurs at Wembley on Sunday and Puel feels interest in his players compliments the Foxes.
He said: “It’s a good feeling because if we play with poor performances and no possibility to develop players then other clubs wouldn’t be interested.
“It shows we’re developing our players, not just young ones – this is a good thing.
“Of course he is better off here – not just this player. Interest from other clubs means they are showing their quality. But he’s still got a lot to learn and room to develop. This is the right place to work.
“Lots of players in our club are attracting interest from other clubs. This is a good feeling because they have time to develop their work and themselves.
“Leicester is a good club and we are showing the project we are trying to put in place.”
Maddison penned a five-year contract when he moved to the King Power Stadium in June.
But Puel was hesitant to stay the Foxes would be ready to give him a bumper new deal to keep him.
“This player is just starting his career in the Premier League so he needs to keep focus and concentration,” he added.
Puel was jeered for substituting Maddison in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Manchester United and he has taken him off in eight of the last 10 games.
But the Frenchman insisted the 22-year-old is not the complete player and needs to improve.
He said: “For young players, they need to show good consistency in games for 90 minutes. Maddison is a young player and has not shown consistency all the time.
“It’s normal for young players. At the beginning of the season he was more clinical and needs to find this edge again.
“It’s not easy for young players to keep the same level of consistency and concentration all the time. They have possibilities to make mistakes because we are patient with them.”
Both City and Sarri’s Chelsea like to dominate possession, with central playmaker Jorginho key to the Blues’ style and substance.
That is where Sarri believes the match will be decided, rather than by the likes of Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain for the visitors, or Sergio Aguero and company for the hosts.
Sarri said: “It will be really very difficult to be in control of the match. The match is there (in midfield), more than in the strikers.”
Jorginho has made the most passes in the Premier League this season (2,219; no assists), while Fernandinho is key for City, allowing his flashier team-mates to flourish.
Sarri, though, is adamant stopping Chelsea is not as simple as nullifying Jorginho, who followed him to Stamford Bridge from Napoli; likewise with Fernandinho and City.
“They are able to play if you stop Fernandinho and also we’re able to play if you stop Jorginho,” Sarri added.
“We have options. Maybe they have more options than us because they have worked on this for three seasons.
“But I remember that in Naples it wasn’t a big problem if there was a man on Jorginho, so I hope it will be the same here in the future.”
The battle for possession will be an intriguing one, with City accustomed to having their own way, especially at home, where they have scored 43 goals in 13 league games.
Sarri added: “I expect Guardiola’s team want to always be in control of the match, always in possession of the ball and they’re able to do it. So it’s a very difficult match.
“We are used to having the ball and possession so on Sunday it will be very different.
“We will try to play our football, but if they are able to play their football, of course, you have to stay lower (deeper).”
Chelsea are unbeaten in seven fixtures against the defending champions, having ended City’s 21-match unbeaten run in the league on December 8.
That came as a surprise to many, with Sarri on Friday admitting his side were “lucky” in the win, built on strong defence and taking goalscoring opportunities, through N’Golo Kante and David Luiz.
Strikers were conspicuous by their absence that day, with Hazard deployed as Chelsea’s ‘false nine’.
Higuain’s arrival has reduced the likelihood of Hazard being required to lead the line, but Sarri refused to rule out that possibility at the Etihad Stadium.
He added: “The situation is not like the other match, so I can decide something different or have a ‘false nine’.”
There has been a nine-goal swing in Chelsea’s last two performances.
A 4-0 loss at Bournemouth – Chelsea’s worst in the Premier League since September 1996 – was followed by a 5-0 win over bottom club Huddersfield, when Higuain and Hazard each scored twice.
Sarri expressed hope, rather than conviction, that Chelsea will be at their best at City. “Now we know very well we need consistency. I hope our version on Sunday will be the best,” he added.