Willian 9/10 as Chelsea swat aside sorry Stoke 5-0 at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea ended 2017 on a high, crushing woeful Stoke City 5-0 at Stamford Bridge. Willian was the beating heart of the Blues victory, providing assists for Antonio Rudiger and Pedro in the first half before winning and converting a penalty after the break.
Danny Drinkwater and substitute Davide Zappacosta also found the net for Antonio Conte's side, who might have won by a higher margin had striker Alvaro Morata had his eye in.
After coming in for heavy criticism of late for failing to make the most of the possession they tend to enjoy against average opposition, it was refreshing to see Chelsea rediscover their goalscoring touch. Willian's man-of-the-match performance provided a timely reminder of his value to the team.
In the reverse fixture at the Bet365 earlier this season, Morata scored a hat-trick and against a makeshift Stoke defence on Saturday, expectations were high that the Spain international would add to his personal tally. Alas, it wasn't to be as the Chelsea striker flattered to deceive, squandering several decent chances before being subbed off with 20 minutes remaining.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- With one eye on Chelsea's upcoming midweek away game with Arsenal, Conte opted to rest Eden Hazard though the Belgium international wasn't missed as the Blues dominated their opponents. Given the advance knowledge that Stoke manager Mark Hughes had a problem staffing his back-line through injuries and the ineligibility of Kurt Zouma against his parent club, Conte might have used the game to give some of Chelsea's younger players a chance of a Premier League start. Instead, he opted for experience all round.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 -- A spectator for almost the entire game, Chelsea were so dominant that Courtois didn't even have to face a single corner, let alone a meaningful assault on his goal.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 6 -- An easy afternoon for Chelsea's Mr. Versatile, who had no problems mopping up the occasional stray balls that came his way. Might have got forward more but with one eye perhaps on the forthcoming Arsenal game, there was no real need for Azpi to get out of cruise control.
DF Gary Cahill, 6 -- Like Azpilicueta, the Blues skipper had little to do in the way of defensive work.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 -- The pick of Chelsea's backline arguably because he still has to prove himself to become a first-team regular, Rudiger seized the opportunity afforded him by Conte. Strength and mobility are the Germany international's key assets and he put both to good use against Stoke. A powerful headed goal underlined the fact the 24-year old has plenty more in his locker that will be of future value to the Blues.
MF Victor Moses, 6 -- Lacked the type of incisiveness that could have profited against lacklustre opponents, Moses made little impression on the game and was replaced before the hour mark.
MF N'Golo Kante, 7 -- Kante could have played the game on crutches and would still have had the measure of Stoke. Controlled the midfield for just over an hour before being subbed off with the result already in the bag.
MF Danny Drinkwater, 8 -- Like Rudiger and Willian, this was a chance for Drinkwater to prove his worth to Conte and like them, he did just that. The midfield partnership with former Leicester City teammate Kante looks solid, arguably Conte's best option, and it will be interesting to see how the Blues manager handles this moving forward given Drinkwater's all-round ability. A well-struck goal was the icing on the cake in what was a fine performance.
MF Marcos Alonso, 6 -- Another of Conte's regulars who scarcely got out of second gear, Alonso showed occasional flashes of desire but there was little need to extend himself and risk injury or fatigue.
FW Willian, 9 -- With Hazard rested, Willian made the most of the opportunity afforded him by Conte putting in a tireless 90-minute display of total football. Whether crafting assists for his teammates or creating chances for himself, the Brazil international proved himself to be Chelsea's most potent threat. A precisely placed penalty brought with it a richly deserved goal and a standing ovation from an appreciative Stamford Bridge crowd.
FW Pedro, 7 -- Pedro loves nothing more than scoring a spectacular goal and the Spaniard was on cue again shimmying with the ball before crashing a low shot into the bottom corner of the net. Frustratingly though perhaps, while he makes hard look easy from distance, closer to goal Pedro spurned a couple of chances to add to his tally and a booking for a blatant dive had a churlish aspect to it that Conte needs to manage.
FW Alvaro Morata, 6 -- Against yielding opponents, the Chelsea striker had plenty of chances to add to his tally of 10 Premier League goals but failed to deliver the goods. There is no doubting the Spain international's quality but consistency is the name of the game and watching a few videos of Tottenham striker Harry Kane putting woeful defences to the sword might not go amiss.
MF Davide Zappacosta, 7 -- Replaced Moses and flourished on the right flank for 30 minutes. Endeavour was rewarded late on with a well-taken goal, a 25-yard daisy-cutter that fizzed into the bottom corner.
MF Tiemoue Bakayoko, 6 -- Replaced Kante midway through the second period and slotted seamlessly into Chelsea's midfield set-up though lacking the effortless finesse of his countryman.
FW Michy Batshuayi, NR -- Took Morata's place for the final 20 minutes of the game but like his fellow striker, he failed to make an impression on the game.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco