With this surrender Tottenham Hotspur may well have sealed their status as the Premier League's most expensive array of misfits.

They are the André Villas-Boas team who are supposed to be a slick winning machine following a £110m summer spend but they performed again like a group of strangers.

To be 5-0 down after 55 minutes also offered the latest evidence of the glaring gap left by a certain Welshman. After 11 matches that had yielded only nine goals Spurs came into this contest pining for Gareth Bale. He was the 26-goal man signed by Real Madrid for a £86m fee that was reinvested (plus a further £24m) in Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela.

In this splurge Villas-Boas hoped major surgery would transform his squad from the Bale-and-supporting-cast show to a force that offered myriad threats coming at the opposition from all areas and angles. By the break this appeared fanciful.

While their form at White Hart Lane has been poor – winning three and losing two of their six league outings – on the road Spurs had conceded only once, so the sight of Jesús Navas doubling this tally after 14 seconds to start the longest of afternoons was hardly encouraging.

Tottenham were 3-0 down at half-time, via a Sandro own goal and Sergio Agüero's 41st-minute strike, as the view formed that this could be yet another of the routs handed out here this season.

Spurs were the latest patsies for City at an arena that has witnessed the 4-1 shellacking of Manchester United, a 7-0 humiliation of Norwich City, and the 5-2 hiding of CSKA Moscow, the standout wins of a home record that had produced a perfect 15 points, contrasting sharply with Spurs' travails before their own crowd.

As Agüero (again) and the excellent Álvaro Negredo confirmed the visitors' fate before the hour thoughts turned to the XI sent out by Villas-Boas, and the tactical uncertainty he displayed during the match.

There was no Andros Townsend. The winger who has made a flying start to the challenge of replacing Bale was named as a substitute only, and by the time the manager completed his replacements on 61 minutes he had still failed to field Townsend.

While the word was that England's newest hope was not carrying an injury and had been dropped for football reasons, at half-time Villas-Boas did find a role for Emmanuel Adebayor, whose latest incarnation as a renegade footballer had him training with the youth team until the manager included him here.

"We've taken into account that a lot of players travelled and are tired," Villas-Boas said before the match. "Emmanuel Adebayor worked extremely well during this international break. It was the right time to bring him back and he gives us further options if we want to change the system."

This was what he decided to do at the break when he substituted Lewis Holtby for Adebayor only for this new two-pronged striker shape to last a mere 15 minutes before the manager decided Roberto Soldado should also be removed for Gylfi Sigurdsson, a midfielder.

Spurs had begun in a 4-1-4-1 formation that had Sandro as the base of midfield and Lamela, the club's record £30m signing making a first league start, Paulinho, Holtby and Aaron Lennon behind Soldado. But the manner in which City were virtually welcomed through their defence by Villas-Boas's side suggested too many remain players off message and tuned in to differing wavelengths.

Sandro told the Observer on Sunday: "It's difficult when new players come for everyone to understand what the new players want. I don't know, no one knows. This takes time to understand in training and games. It's not easy for players coming from another country."

The counter to this argument is that highly paid footballers are hired precisely because they can make a respectable fight of proceedings one game into a season, never mind 12. This and Villas-Boas's baffling selections – Jermain Defoe joined Townsend as the other head-scratching omission – are the chief concerns as the congested winter programme begins.

By the close Navas had made it 6-0 and the occasion of Villas-Boas's 50th Premier League match in charge had left him a stone-faced and lonely figure.

Of his team's triumph, Manuel Pellegrini said: "It is impossible to play better than today." For Spurs, the same is true in reverse: it does not get any worse.

On the same date last season Spurs had three points fewer than their current 20 and were a place back. But with the champions, Manchester United, at White Hart Lane on Sunday and with two straight defeats after the 1-0 loss at Newcastle United last time out in the league, the serious questions will start in the white section of north London.