Manchester City played as though affronted by Roberto Mancini's suggestion that they might be only third or fourth favourites for the title. They were devastating during a second-half blitz when everything clicked and all the damage was done against a Chelsea side who must have found the experience alarming in the extreme.
Those were moments when Roberto Di Matteo's side were reminded why there were 25 points separating these teams last season and, on this evidence, we should probably see beyond whatever message Mancini was trying to send to the people above him about City's chances of a successful title defence, particularly now they have started their summer spending with the acquisition of Jack Rodwell from Everton, for an initial £15m.
At least one more signing should arrive before the transfer window closes and even if Mancini remains dissatisfied, this was a performance that suggests a confident and strong team going into the new season. Their squad is not flawless, something brought home by the erratic goalkeeping of Costel Pantilimon, playing in place of the injured Joe Hart. But the point about this City side is that they can menace even the most accomplished defences, especially now Carlos Tevez appears to be playing with a clear head.
Chelsea, in truth, got off lightly just to lose by the odd goal in five. To give them their due, they had mitigating circumstances in the form of Branislav Ivanovic's red card late in the first half. Fernando Torres, showing encouraging flashes, had opened the scoring two minutes earlier but Ivanovic, sliding in to challenge Aleksandar Kolarov, was guilty of lifting his foot and his studs went high into his opponent's shin. It was reckless and foolish and his team suffered the consequences.
For the first half an hour of the second period City were magnificent, attacking with width and penetration, scoring three times in 12 minutes through Yaya Touré, Tevez and Samir Nasri, and so dominant they should probably have made it even more of an ordeal for their opponents.
Touré and Nasri were the driving forces, showing flashes of brilliance in a new 3-4-1-2 formation. James Milner subjected Ashley Cole to one of his more difficult afternoons and for John Terry in particular, it was a demoralising experience. Terry's weak clearance had given Touré the chance to equalise but the Chelsea captain was also subjected to chants about his recent court case. They were loud and sustained and could conceivably be the soundtrack to his season.
City were a sight to behold once Touré had buried an emphatic right-foot shot past Petr Cech and, in the process, they made the backs-to-the-wall defending that helped Chelsea overcome Barcelona and Bayern Munich in last season's Champions League feel a distant memory. City's second goal, in particular, was a beauty, Nasri slipping a pass to Tevez who ducked along the edge of the penalty area and evaded David Luiz and Terry before firing into the top corner. Six minutes later, Tevez released Kolarov on the left and Nasri jabbed out a foot to divert the cross past Cech. Rarely have Chelsea been made to look so ordinary and vulnerable.
The disappointment for City came in the 80th minute when Pantilimon lost the flight of Daniel Sturridge's shot and allowed the ball to dribble out of his hands for another substitute, Ryan Bertrand, to score. Briefly, there was the sense of an improbable comeback, but there were only a few anxious moments in front of the Romanian goalkeeper. City, in fact, should have made it four when Sergio Agüero turned wide the easiest chance of the match and the afternoon could have ended in ignominy for Chelsea, with the referee, Kevin Friend, deciding to be lenient when Frank Lampard and Ramires committed fouls that might ordinarily have enticed second yellow cards.
Chelsea had their own grievances, not least because City's Stefan Savic could have been shown two yellows in the first half. Mancini substituted the young centre-half at half-time but Chelsea would be unwise to dwell on Friend's officiating. The simple truth was that City had passed the ball with much greater incision and could regard themselves as unfortunate to be losing at half-time.
Torres took his chance well, collecting Ramires's pass and scoring with a left-foot shot inside the penalty area, and the Spaniard's sharpness does at least encourage the sense he might have an improved season. Eden Hazard, however, had an undistinguished introduction to English football, notable mostly for an early dive that should have seen him booked, and then a comedic attempted backheel that saw him miss the ball and fall over. He, like Chelsea, will almost certainly improve. Worryingly for the other title contenders, so should City.