Chelsea 4 Hull City 0
Quite what the Barcelona scouts dispatched to this corner of south-west London to cast their eyes over next week’s opponents would have gleaned from this thrashing is anyone’s guess.
Chelsea’s passage into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup was achieved without mustering up much of a sweat, with Hull City of the second tier deflated and defeated over an embarrassingly one-sided first half.
The hosts could ease their way to the final whistle, progress into the last eight achieved courtesy of Willian’s early effervescence - the Brazilian was denied a hat-trick late on as he clipped the woodwork from distance - and the visitors’ desperate deficiencies. This tie was devoid of the drama so craved by the FA Cup but, with Antonio Conte’s mind already drifting to Barca and how to check La Liga’s unbeaten leaders, the locals were hardly complaining. They know a far tougher contest than this awaits on Tuesday night.
Conte had voiced his gratitude in the buildup that this fixture had been scheduled for the Friday night, allowing his team more time to prepare for Barca’s visit, though there had always been the sense this might prove a stroll.
Hull labour 21st in the Championship, a point above the cut-off, and Nigel Adkins’ options had been severely limited by injuries, suspensions and the ineligibility of three players - Ola Aina, Fikayo Tomori and Michael Hector - who are on loan from the host club. Michael Dawson’s return from groin trouble was offset by Jarrob Bowen’s absence with an untimely hamstring injury. If this was the best selection Adkins could conceivably put out, they still desperately needed a solid start. Instead, they trailed after 106 seconds and were confronting humiliation not long after the half-hour.
In truth, even with numbers back in an attempt to clog up the home side's enterprising play, they had quaked whenever the Premier League champions poured forward, with Willian and Pedro dazzling, Cesc Fabregas offered time to spray passes gloriously from that quarterback brief, and Olivier Giroud's every contribution unsettling Hull's panicked players. The visitors wilted while Atkins looked helplessly on and their small band of travelling supporters shivered in their corner of the Shed end. It was a complete mismatch from the moment Kevin Stewart turned into trouble inside the second minute and was crowded out by Giroud. Willian duly collected the loose ball and curled a sumptuous shot into the top corner.
All the tricks and flicks seemed to pay off thereafter, with poor Stewart's display disintegrating in the centre - he would be booked for a raised arm on Gary Cahill before the half was up - and David Meyler ruthlessly exploited as a makeshift right-back whenever Chelsea flew down that flank. It had been Fabregas' lofted pass which had split Dawson and Meyler for Pedro, darting in between, to collect and convert with his left foot. Within minutes, Stewart had again been outmuscled by Giroud and, with Dawson diving in desperately, Willian wriggled into space to fizz another precisely curled shot which kissed the far post and in.
David Marshall had been slow to react at that attempt but, in truth, he already looked shellshocked and diminished. The goalkeeper's first-half misery was not yet complete as Emerson Palmieri, on debut following his £17m arrival from Roma last month, barged through Meyler's weak attempt to block and reached the by-line, with Giroud improvising a finish from his cut-back at the near post. The Frenchman's display had merited a first goal for his new club, the ball having flown beyond him at a succession of centres from the left early on. The reality that he had contributed at each of Chelsea's rewards to that point had been an indication of his impact, albeit against hapless opponents.
Hull had barely offered a threat of their own, but did at least rouse themselves to force Ethan Ampadu - such a calm presence, even at 17 - to belt clear an Angus MacDonald header from under the crossbar early in the second half. Chelsea's attempts to clear the resultant corner were less effective, with Fabregas' trip on Harry Wilson earning the visitors a penalty.
Yet, true to wretched form, Meyler seemed distracted by the referee's request to re-spot the ball and Willian's mischievous muttering in his ear. His shot was subsequently pushed away by Willy Caballero, while Wilson would depart for treatment after damaging his right shoulder in the tumble. That rather summed up the entire chastening occasion, with any semblance of this as a contest having long since been lost.
Instead, Chelsea could saunter through what time remained. Another 17-year-old, the promising forward Callum Hudson-Odoi, replaced Pedro to offer an early indication of Conte’s team selection for Tuesday, with the young Kyle Scott also granted a run-out before the end.
Yet more significant in the context of the next few days was Alvaro Morata's arrival 20 minutes from time as the Spaniard sought to prove his match fitness with the Champions League tie in mind. The former Real Madrid player will relish that challenge ahead, with topflight games at Manchester United and Manchester City to follow. In so many ways, this was the calm before that storm.