Chelsea. Guus Hiddink. FA Cup.
It just works.
Add to the recipe a Manchester City side chockablock with teenagers, and the result is, well, a romp. Anchored by another masterclass from Cesc Fàbregas, Chelsea frolicked to a 5-1 victory at Stamford Bridge to reach the FA Cup quarterfinals.
Everton, in a potentially dicey trip to Goodison Park, awaits the Blues in the last eight. That tie, to take place between March 11-14, should offer infinitely more competitive value than Sunday's fare; four second-half goals settled the match, which was effectively decided in midweek when Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini revealed plans to field a team laden with teens.
What should have been the standout tie of the round instead became a formality. Pellegrini, brash in his defense of the decision, went as far as to say the match wasn't even a "real game" and that if he were of the ticket-buying ilk, he'd find better ways to spend that money this weekend. Magic of the cup.
Pellegrini handed out five full debuts, and six players in his first team weren't alive when we lost Biggie Smalls (let that sink in). The kids huffed and puffed for a period, even scoring a fine goal, but soon after halftime - three minutes to be exact - succumbed to the hosts' wealth of experience and talent.
In reality, Chelsea should have been out of sight before the break. A host of quality chances arrived before and after Diego Costa's opener, including a lovely bit of interplay between Pedro and Fàbregas that was reminiscent of peak Barcelona. However, Pedro, released down the right side of the penalty area, only managed to clip the far post with his poked effort beyond an onrushing Willy Caballero.
The gulf in class was starting to surface and shortly thereafter, Costa registered his ninth goal in 12 appearances, a close-range header following pristine work from both Hazard and Fàbregas, whose range of passing, vision and late runs into the box were superb throughout. Unfortunately, a minute after Costa opened the scoring, City answered with its finest move of the day. The 19-year-old, David Faupala, a bruising presence in the mold of Costa, took advantage of some egregious defending from Chelsea (trademark, 2015-16) to level matters.
Chelsea did not appear shook by the concession, not even as a section of cowards began to toss coins onto the pitch. Though Pedro continued to fashion but ultimately fluff chances, the half was not welcomed by the hosts, and you could sense the final 45 minutes were going to stretch City's inexperienced side beyond its limit.
It took Chelsea just three minutes to restore superiority through Willian, who started a piercing counter attack by powering some 50 yards through the middle of the park. On his way, Chelsea's standout performer this season exchanged passes with Hazard before his late run into the box freed space for a low strike under Caballero.
Gary Cahill's driven volley through Caballero, suspect for much of the match, made it 3-1 five minutes later and resulted in Hazard's third assist on the day. The Belgian looked more like himself than he has in quite a while, combining menace with directness and, most significantly, finishing. He scored his second goal of the season to seal the win midway through the second half, a lovely curled effort from a free kick he himself won with a vintage inside dart. The entire move brought with it flashbacks to last season.
The chances kept coming. Oscar skewered another penalty. Bertrand Traoré again made a convincing case for more minutes, closing the day's scoring with his third goal of the campaign, a late flicked/looping header that capped a woeful performance from Caballero. It's funny - for all the talk about City's teenagers in the buildup to the match, it was the veteran members of the side who were exposed, in particular AARP member Martín Demichelis and Caballero.
Chelsea have now scored three or more goals in four of its last eight matches across all competitions. Should that pattern continue, particularly in just over two weeks' time, everything will be rosy.