Chelsea eased to victory in our final game of 2017, securing our sixth successive home league win.
Three goals inside the opening quarter set the tone as we look back on a year in which we became Premier League champions for the fifth time.
Antonio Rudiger headed the opener inside three minutes before Danny Drinkwater struck his first Chelsea goal with an outstanding half-volley, and when Pedro added a third halfway through the first half, three points against a Stoke side who have not won at Stamford Bridge since winning promotion to the Premier League in 2008 were secure.
Willian, who had played a role in the creation of the first three, added a fourth from the penalty spot in the second period before substitute Davide Zappacosta fired home two minutes from time.
Antonio Conte made three changes to his side that had beaten Brighton at the Bridge on Boxing Day, and all three would make a significant impact. Drinkwater, Willian and Pedro came in with Tiemoue Bakayoko, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard dropping to the bench.
For Stoke, Blues loanee Kurt Zouma was ineligible to play against his parent club while Stoke were also without Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi, Erik Pieters and former Chelsea defender Glen Johnson.
Pre-match discussion had centred around Stoke’s lack of defensive bodies, and it took less than three minutes for Chelsea to capitalise.
Willian’s outswinging corner was placed into a dangerous area, and the unmarked Rudiger was first on the scene to head home his third goal of the season.
Chelsea never looked back, and less than six minutes later we had doubled the lead without Stoke having got as far as Thibaut Courtois’ penalty area.
Willian was causing trouble again on the edge of the area but when his shot, and Pedro’s subsequent attempted cross, was blocked, the ball fell to Drinkwater on the edge of the area.
The midfielder controlled the ball on his thigh before sending a beautiful, dipping half-volley beyond the stationary Jack Butland and into the far top corner. It was Drinkwater’s first Chelsea goal and certainly one to savour.
There was little let up for beleaguered Stoke, who were finding it hard to get out of their own half, lone forward Saido Berahino getting little change from our back three, which was unchanged after earning a clean sheet against Brighton on Boxing Day.
Just 13 minutes in it could have been 3-0, Alvaro Morata racing through but denied by England goalkeeper Jack Butland, who was already having a busy afternoon.
The third did come 10 minutes later and again Willian was the architect, finding space on the edge of the area and turning back on his man before squaring to Pedro. The Spaniard still had work to do, but his feint took young defender Josh Tymon out of the game and his finish was sublime, hard and low across Butland into the bottom corner. Chelsea were out of sight and ending 2017 on a high.
Butland was forced into another save from Willian and Morata took too long on the ball inside the area to keep the score down, but there looked no way back for the visitors. Mame Biram Diouf did have the ball in the net, but he was adjudged to have handled the ball when bringing it down. No goal and Courtois’ clean sheet remained intact heading into the break.
Five minutes into the second period the Belgian was called into action for the first time, Charlie Adam releasing Berahino but shooting too straight, allowing Courtois to parry and the Blues to clear.
Stoke were enjoying a little more possession at the beginning of the second half, but with a flat five in midfield, they were still struggling to get forward and provide support, or chances, for Berahino. Back in the ascendancy, Chelsea almost added a fourth when Marcos Alonso showed his athleticism to reach the ball before it went out for a goal kick, pulling back for Pedro, just booked for simulation, who lashed his shot just wide.
Morata was denied again in a carbon copy of his first-half chance as Butland denied him at close range, and then Pedro stung the goalkeeper’s palms with a vicious left-footed strike from the resultant corner.
With time ticking away, Conte opted to make changes and offer rest to those who have been racking up the minutes. Off came Victor Moses, N’Golo Kante and Morata, on were Davide Zappacosta, Bakayoko and Michy Batshuayi.
Morata had looked frustrated not to find the net, and had he stayed on two minutes longer he may have found himself with another opportunity after Willian was fouled inside the area by Geoff Cameron.
Regular taker Hazard was left on the bench, and so it was the Brazilian himself who stepped up, calmly slotting home and sending Butland the wrong way. He’d had quite the day, much like he did against Stoke in our last game of 2016 when he scored twice in a 4-2 win.
Willian was the intended target for Drinkwater’s long ball two minutes from time, but when that was intercepted it fell to Zappacosta outside the box, and the Italian made no mistake as he fired home low into the bottom corner to complete the rout.
It brings to an end an excellent year for the Blues, and with Manchester United playing later on Saturday, momentarily at least takes us second. Next up is Arsenal on Wednesday, and the Blues look in fine shape.
Chelsea (3-5-2): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill (c), Rudiger; Moses (Zappacosta 56), Kante (Bakayoko 65), Drinkwater, Alonso; Willian, Morata (Batshuayi 71), Pedro.
Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, Fabregas, Hazard.
Scorers Rudiger 3, Drinkwater 9, Pedro 23, Willian (pen) 73, Zappacosta 88
Booked Pedro 52
Stoke (4-4-1-1): Butland; Edwards, Cameron, Wimmer, Tymon; Diouf, Fletcher (c), Adam (Choupo-Moting 79), Afellay (Ngoy 71), Ramadan; Berahino.
Unused subs Grant, Allen, Souttar, Shaqiri, Crouch.
Booked Diouf 27
Referee Kevin Friend