Had Daniel Levy given Andre Villas-Boas the striker and midfielder he needed last summer, then Spurs would surely have finished above Arsenal. This was a predictable collapse...
The events of the past week have set up an exciting summer in the Premier League, but first, will Spurs leave it late on the final day? And Benitez deserves lots of credit...
Isn't it amazing what can happen when Manchester United play like Manchester United?
This column has previously criticised Sir Alex Ferguson's team selections this season, but there was no messing around from the United manager on Sunday as he picked his strongest available first XI and set them up to attack City on the counter.
There was no diamond formation, no Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes, no players selected because they did well last week and no playing to Manchester City's strengths. This was a United team that showed no mercy, intended to win and played with confidence in the execution of a precise game plan.
In April, this fixture saw City reclaim top spot with only two games remaining in the title race as Ferguson was responsible for his worst tactical approach to a match since the 2011 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona. A Vincent Kompany header may have settled the scoreline on that balmy spring evening, but City didn't win the match insofar as United lost it.
The painful experience of that performance will live long in the bones of those who follow United, but Sunday's result helps to cloud the suffering. There were six changes to the team from April's defeat, and when you consider that Giggs, Scholes and Park Ji-Sung were replaced by Antonio Valencia, Tom Cleverley and Robin van Persie, it's little wonder that United were so vastly improved.
The aim now is to maintain the 4-2-3-1 system that has served the team well this season and help other squad members adapt when rotation is required. The formation should not have to be changed simply to accommodate Javier Hernandez when Van Persie needs a rest; Hernandez should develop his game to meet the requirements of the system.
United may have already lost three Premier League games already this season, but for the first time since 1913/14 they have secured victories at Liverpool, Chelsea and City to hold a strong position at the top.
As I said in 16 Conclusions, in a two-way battle that saw United surrender an eight-point lead in the final six matches last year, we're still a long way from seeing anything decided. But the Reds are the first to draw blood, and having amassed a points-per-game average that would see them beat last season's total by four - without really breaking sweat thus far - Ferguson will be confident of his team's chances heading into the Christmas period.
As Peterborough defender Gabriel Zakuani said on Twitter, the forward's first goal crept home like a cheating husband, but his second was a much truer strike after he arrived late into the box to meet Rafael's delivery.
Ferguson recently demanded more goals from Rooney and before playing the striker for 90 minutes in the midweek defeat to Cluj, the manager said: "Wayne needs to play a lot of games to get his match-fitness up. He's a strongly built lad and when he misses two games it takes him three games to come back."
It was a kind way of saying Rooney is a bit fat, and it was embarrassing for Ferguson when the England international returned from his summer holiday visibly overweight. However, the manager now appears to have gained a tight grip of Rooney's fitness program again, and the forward's energetic display against City hinted that it may be the start of a famous purple patch.
Speaking of purple patches, Fernando Torres seems to have finally found form after bagging his second brace in a week to end a 12-and-a-half-hour Premier League goal drought.
Rafa Benitez was certain that he knew how to fix Torres shortly after arriving at Chelsea, and the new manager's methods are already taking effect. With the striker's teammates readily offering support and running beyond him in the final third, he suddenly looks far less isolated.
"We are playing a bit differently now," said Torres on Saturday. "We do not pass the ball as much as we did in the final third and we play a bit more direct."
That he demanded to take his first Premier League penalty - which was finished with aplomb - shows a renewed confidence that could be crucial to Chelsea hanging onto the coattails of the top two. It was important to depart for the Club World Cup with a win.
A fine win secured without Luis Suarez and against a physically imposing opponent. Jonjo Shelvey's move into attack was reasonably effective in the draw with Young Boys in the Europa League and the enforced switch worked well against West Ham as Liverpool scored more than two goals in a Premier League match for only the third time this season.
It was the first time Liverpool have picked up back-to-back Premier League victories in a year, and the result was made even more impressive by the team's recovery after throwing away an early lead, gained through a fantastic strike from Glen Johnson. Brendan Rodgers has previously fretted over the anxiety of his team after going behind, but on this occasion they stood up to the challenge and played their way to three points.
All of a sudden, the Reds are in the top half and only four points away from fourth in one of the most open Champions League battles in years. I've said previously that the top four is not beyond Liverpool this season and their gradual improvement could see them become serious challengers if they add one or two new faces in January.
At the moment, the Reds are on course to equal their points total from last season - which was 17 short of fourth - but Rodgers is beginning to balance his squad much more convincingly, which will be vital over the busy Christmas schedule. As I wrote here, the previously shunned trio of Jose Enrique, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing have all established themselves after being brought in from the cold, and even Joe Cole popped up with a vital goal on Sunday.
Rodgers' small squad will be tested to its limits over the next month, but if the Reds can stay within two wins of fourth, FSG should seek to capitalise on the inconsistency of Arsenal, Everton and Spurs by backing the manager in the transfer window. Liverpool have a real opportunity to jump back into the Champions League this year and they should grab it with both hands before the teams above them kick on again.
The Toffees can also be considered challengers for the top six after leapfrogging Spurs with a late 2-1 victory over Andre Villas-Boas' side on Sunday.
Similar to Liverpool, Everton's weakness lies in their relatively small squad, but unfortunately for David Moyes he doesn't have the benefit of the same potential financial backing. The signing of Nikica Jelavic last January helped Everton to jump from tenth to seventh in the final standings, but it's unlikely they will be given a similar boost this year and the manager will have to work wonders to squeeze everything out of the players he has available. The fitness of the impressive Kevin Mirallas will be a key factor in Everton maintaining their position.
The Canaries extended their unbeaten run to nine matches after a ruthless first-half display at Swansea.
Considering Norwich had scored only 13 goals in their first 15 games, it was a shock to see them race into a 3-0 lead at the break against an in-form team that had conceded only six strikes in their last eight matches. But Chris Hughton's team are playing with renewed belief in their current 4-4-1-1 formation, and it was perhaps only a matter of time until someone received a spanking.
The manager will have been pleased that Grant Holt's hard work was finally rewarded with a goal and an assist, while special praise should be reserved for Robert Snodgrass, who became the first Premier League player this season to assist two or more goals and score in the same game.
You can keep Swansea down, but you can't keep Michu down. If the forward gets to 20 top-flight goals this season (he's currently on 12) then surely one of the Champions League clubs will test the Swans with an offer.
The win over Reading saw the Saints jump from 18th to 15th, leaving their rivals six points adrift of safety. I'm still not convinced that Nigel Adkins will be able to keep the team up this year - and a points-per-game average of 0.94 suggests it will certainly be close - but the manager deserves great credit for a run of form that has seen Southampton pick up three wins and two draws in the last six matches. The Saints have also conceded only four goals in that time, and their vastly improved defensive displays have given them a foundation for survival. They should ease past a disillusioned Sunderland side at St Mary's on December 22.
Given the unrest surrounding the Gunners, it was vital to secure a victory against West Brom and Santi Cazorla's dive helped to set the ball rolling after just 26 minutes.
On another day, Arsenal's profligacy may have proved costly, causing frustration in the stands and nerves on the pitch. The Gunners hit the target with only three of their 19 attempts, and Arsene Wenger said after the match that it was "the only negative of the day".
On responding to criticism, the manager told Arsenal.com: "That's why I am proud of the victory today, because it is important for our season that when your backs are to the wall, the team responds. As well because our spirit has been questioned because we had a flat performance last week. You can only come back and win on the football pitch."
One win against West Brom is unlikely to change a great deal in the context of the manager's wider problems, but the team's next five fixtures are all winnable and if at least 12 points can be taken they could start the new year with renewed optimism in the stands.
Not only is the two-point gap to fourth easily surmountable, but the Gunners should also see off Bradford on Tuesday to reach the League Cup semi-final. If they win, it will only have been an expected victory; if they lose, a portal to hell could open at Ashburton Grove.
The playmaker conceded six fouls against Sunderland when the most he had committed in a single game previously was only two. It seems Benitez's instructions are starting to have an impact.
You didn't think there could be any winners from that game, did you? But Stoke have now kept more clean sheets than any other team in the top flight. They did manage only two shots (both off-target) against Villa, though.
"It's different from last year because it's a totally different style of play (at Sunderland).
"I have to do a lot more, because last season I could stay high up the pitch and didn't have to do much tracking back."
That's why you were sold, lad.
Yes, it was a dive, but do we really need to go on about it? Liam Ridgewell did the same for West Brom at Sunderland only two weeks ago, so any protestations by Steve Clarke will hardly be met with great support.
Cazorla will just be relieved that he can claim an assist, after only one in his previous 11 Premier League appearances.
West Ham were winning 2-1 against Liverpool at the time of Diame's injury, and the midfielder will be sorely missed over the next few weeks.
Spurs' run of three consecutive victories came to an abrupt halt in the final six minutes at Goodison as Everton fought back to steal all three points.
The biggest regret for Villas-Boas shouldn't be that his team threw away an important win, but that they missed out on a point when it was still possible to leave with a creditable result. A draw would have been fair, but Spurs failed to close down Darron Gibson (who has been on the losing side only four times in a total of 48 Premier League matches), and the midfielder's ball into the box eventually fell to Nikica Jelavic to tap home.
Perhaps a point wasn't good enough for Spurs after they had been so close to all three, but the team's habit of conceding late goals - that's now ten in the last 15 minutes of matches, a league high record - will be a major concern for the manager. Is it fatigue that's costing Spurs after their midweek exertions in the Europa League? Or do they lack a leader to organise the team in the opposition's final onslaught?
One thing was for certain on Sunday, Villas-Boas' decision to replace Jermain Defoe with Iago Falque did little to stem the Everton tide. It wasn't a mistake to replace Defoe - who offers next to nothing when the team are under pressure - but Jake Livermore or Kyle Naughton would have afforded considerably more resistance than Falque, who was making his first Premier League appearance of the season.
It really was a head-scratching move by the manager, as was his decision to replace Mousa Dembele with Gylfi Sigurdsson immediately after Clint Dempsey had given Spurs the lead. It was not the time for an attacking change involving the introduction of a player who has thus far failed to impress in a white shirt.
The defeat to Everton was the first time Spurs have lost a Premier League match when Dembele has started, having previously won all six fixtures with the Belgian in the first XI and it's little surprise that he wasn't on the pitch during the Toffees' fight back.
Sunday's clash at home to Swansea should be an interesting game, with both teams capable of playing some excellent football and wounded by the end of their recent run of form.
The Wigan centre-back is blaming his mistake which led to Djbril Cisse's goal on Piscu, his alter-ego.
Some reports claim Rio Ferdinand intentionally incited the home fans, while others say he was running to the United section to celebrate. It doesn't matter which is true. If the coin that hit Rio had been just an inch lower, not only could his career have been ended, but he may have permanently lost sight in one eye.
Football is depressingly tribal following such incidents, and Twitter is full of incredibly tiresome types who put forward opinions such as "I'm not saying it's an excuse, BUT Rio really shouldn't incite the fans". Regardless of the defender's actions, did he deserve to be pelted with coins? Wayne Rooney was subjected to the same missiles on corner-kicks and the only thing he did to wind up City fans was score two goals.
It's also important to remember that only a very small minority of City fans were involved in the ugly scenes, but that won't bother some fans who are looking to score cheap points.
The Rs became the first Premier League team to fail to win any of their first 16 games of the season. Of course, that isn't Harry Redknapp's fault, but the new manager has now had three excellent opportunities to secure a first victory with fixtures against Sunderland, Aston Villa and Wigan. It looks a little bleaker for QPR with each passing week.
Reading and Sunderland
It was surprising that Sunderland managed to score without Steven Fletcher, but their steady descent into the relegation zone was confirmed with defeat to Chelsea. Given the predicament this sorry pair find themselves in, their meeting on Tuesday at the Stadium of Light is a crucial fixture. Expect it to be a 0-0 draw.
The main objective of being a football manager is to never hinder your team's chances of success, but Mancini did exactly that by selecting Mario Balotelli ahead of Carlos Tevez in the Manchester derby.
It was obvious to everyone including the City manager that his best attacking partnership is Tevez and Sergio Aguero, but instead of picking his strongest first XI, Mancini had to try and be clever.
As I said in 16 Conclusions, Balotelli wasn't entirely awful in his 52 minutes on the pitch, and did no less or no more than Mancini should have reasonably expected. But the manager's decision to start with the striker added fuel to a fire that's already burning.
The leading argument against Mancini is that almost any manager could win the league with the players he has available, and City's embarrassing failure in the Champions League adds weight to criticism of the Italian.
With City now having a straight run at the Premier League following their exit from Europe, Mancini's future surely hinges on the team retaining their crown. On Sunday morning - before the manager's costly meddling - it looked a much more achievable aim.
Matt Stanger - he's on Twitter.