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...
That's it. It's all over. The bookies should pay out. Let's go home and wait for the new season to start. #9pointsclear.
It would be foolish to think that Manchester United's nine-point lead signals the end of the title race following the events of last season, but Sir Alex Ferguson's team are a year older, a year wiser and a painful year hungrier. It will take a monumental effort from Manchester City to wrestle back first place from here.
This is the furthest behind United that City have been since the end of the 2010/11 season, while the league leaders have never picked up more points after 25 games in the Premier League. Only once have they conceded more goals at this stage, but concerns over defensive frailties haven't hindered a relentless pursuit to reclaim the trophy they have won 12 times.
The worry for City is that United are improving as the season progresses. They are no longer playing for "ten or 15 minutes" of matches - which was Ferguson's concern after beating QPR in November - and the hard-fought 1-0 win over Fulham means the Reds have now kept three clean sheets in their last six top-flight fixtures compared to three in the previous 19. The 1-0 defeat to Norwich - their third of the season - was 14 games ago in the middle of November, while City have lost twice since then and dropped two points to the team four adrift at the bottom.
Following Saturday's victory, Ferguson said: "It was similar to when we played here a few years ago when Cristiano (Ronaldo) scored near the end and we went on to have an undefeated run after that. It was around the same time too."
Indeed, there is a compelling symmetry between United's hard-fought 1-0 win over Fulham this season and the 2-1 success in February 2007 in a match in which Ronaldo's fine winner underlined the Portuguese's skill and determination that was to lead United in the next two seasons. That result in 2007 saw the Reds stretch nine points clear at the top, and who would argue against them repeating their undefeated run over the next 13 matches?
City's best hope is that victory at Old Trafford on April 6 derails United's title push, or a crushing defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League achieves the same. But at this stage the season has been nothing short of a disaster for Roberto Mancini and his team.
One consideration for United is that they must avoid the growing distraction of David De Gea. After the keeper's mistake against Spurs, he has become the topic of much debate and the 22-year-old will have to deal with the intense scrutiny. When the title was lost by only eight goals last season, United cannot afford any slip-ups from their number one. Ferguson noted how costly a single error could be after the Spaniard's mistake in the 3-2 win over Fulham at the start of the season and despite United fans' staunch defence of De Gea, the keeper's occasional calamities are a concern.
"It has been a very important week for us," said Andre Villas-Boas after Spurs' 1-0 win over West Brom. "To get four points away from home, with not much time between the games, is excellent.
"We have put ourselves in a very good position to threaten for third place."
After Arsenal closed within a point of their rivals on Saturday, it was imperative that Spurs secured an important victory at the Hawthorns and Goran Popov's phlegmy peccadillo helped them on their way.
This column has previously questioned the lack of leadership at White Hart Lane as Villas-Boas fuses a new team this season, but Spurs' cohesion and team spirit was a crucial factor in securing three points on Sunday. Certainly no-one would accuse them of being 'in turmoil' after witnessing their run of nine Premier League matches without defeat.
The move away from a 4-4-2 formation in the last three games following Emmanuel Adebayor's departure to the Africa Cup of Nations has perhaps slightly disrupted Spurs' flow, and the addition of another striker in January could have been an important step towards cementing a top-four finish. But neither did Arsenal or Everton strengthen significantly in the window and everyone continuing as they were is no bad thing for Spurs.
Villas-Boas' aim of catching a beleaguered Chelsea is perhaps optimistic in the short term given forthcoming fixtures against resurgent Newcastle, London derbies against West Ham and Arsenal and a trip to Liverpool and, with a double-header against Lyon in the Europa League also on the horizon, Spurs' squad will be stretched to its limits. The return of Adebayor is well-timed.
The Magpies secured back-to-back Premier League victories for the first time this season with a deserved 3-2 victory over Chelsea that ended fears of a possible relegation battle.
The key to Newcastle's win on Saturday was their renewed hunger and the presence of more willing runners in the first XI. Three unreplied attempts inside the first seven minutes set the tone for an impressive performance.
Davide Santon, who has earned a recall to the Italy squad for Wednesday's friendly against Holland, impressed with two assists but the star of the show was two-goal hero Moussa Sissoko. The January signing from Toulouse looks a steal at £2million and the midfielder's desire to get into the box to react first to Petr Cech's weak parry and level the score at 2-2 typified the energy that has helped to haul Newcastle away from danger.
"He has fantastic power but, with players, you never know about their attitude until you get them in and start working with them," said Alan Pardew. "But he came in like a giant and played like a giant. I remember watching him for Toulouse 14 months ago and thought, 'he is the one for us'."
"But, my word, he is already paying us back handsomely," added the manager, channelling Ray Wilkins.
Sturridge looks as though he's playing with a point to prove and his goal against City underlined his quality. Not only was it a fine strike, but the striker's intelligent movement before receiving the ball created the opportunity which he duly dispatched.
There were more positives than negatives in a week in which two 2-2 draws should really have been back-to-back victories. In terms of Liverpool's Champions League pursuit, the two points added to the gap to Spurs probably spell an end to faint hopes, but this was always going to be another season of transition and the signs over the past week have been hugely encouraging.
While Brendan Rodgers rued Liverpool's "tentative" performance against United at Old Trafford in January, the Reds showed no fear against Arsenal or City and it could be argued that they deserved to win both matches after two displays of pluck and quality. The arrival of Daniel Sturridge has helped Rodgers to fine-tune a convincing counter-attacking system and the manager has exhibited considerable flexibility in his tactics over the past two matches.
"That was an outstanding performance coming here, which is a notoriously difficult place where it is even difficult to score goals," said Rodgers in his post-match interview, pointing to the fact that City were the only team to have conceded fewer goals at home than Liverpool before Sunday. "We were brilliant. The only disappointment is that we were outstanding in our work but mistakes have cost us."
Despite his measured reaction, it's likely the manager will privately be seething at another blunder from Pepe Reina and the keeper's eighth error leading to a goal in the last two seasons could also lead to his exit in the summer.
Defensive lapses are a concern for Liverpool and Rodgers has left Martin Skrtel out of his starting line-up in the last three Premier League matches with the centre-back's performance against Oldham highlighting his poor form. On Sunday, Daniel Agger was partly responsible for Edin Dzeko's opening goal after he first played James Milner onside and then allowed Dzeko's simple movement to deceive him and Rodgers will be worried that only six teams have conceded more goals away from home than the Reds this season.
As much as the defence requires a shake-up in the summer, Rodgers deserves praise for reinvigorating Liverpool's attack and the signing of Sturridge has thus far looked a shrewd move even at £12million. The Reds have scored only three goals fewer than their total last season (partly owing to Luis Suarez remaining available throughout the campaign) and the movement and understanding of Sturridge and Suarez was a constant threat against Arsenal and City.
Rodgers also reserved special praise for Steven Gerrard's "immense" performance on Sunday and the captain has now equalled his previous record of nine assists in a single Premier League season after playing every minute of the current campaign.
A vital win against Sunderland followed a bonus point at home to Chelsea to leave the Royals sitting two points clear of Wigan and Aston Villa, who both visit the Madejski in the next four fixtures. Reading have scored more goals in the last 15 minutes than any other team, and that staying power could be crucial in their battle for survival.
Christ that was dull. But as Arsene Wenger said after the narrow victory over Stoke, it was a match that would either end 0-0 or 1-0 and the Gunners worked hard to earn three points, albeit with the added fortune of Lukas Podolski's deflected strike.
Although Olivier Giroud has been good in the air this season, the striker was always going to struggle against Stoke's physical defenders and Arsenal's tactic of firing crosses into the box was rather fruitless. The Gunners have previously struggled to break down teams who sit deep at the Emirates and Wenger must work on a plan B.
The manager should also move on from his obsession with the team's mental state. "These players have a fantastic spirit and quality. We lacked belief (in the past) because we have been criticised a lot," said Wenger on Saturday. "The team took time to strengthen their belief, but the focus of the players is great and I am confident we will have a strong end to the season."
Why can't he just say it was a good performance?
Andy Carroll has returned at the perfect time to lead West Ham out of their mid-season slump.
The money from Benteke's inevitable exit could prove to be a crucial factor in Villa's promotion push next season.
Although the Toffees have lost only three of their last 34 Premier League fixtures, they have become top-flight draw specialists with 12 so far this season. It certainly seems to be confusing David Moyes.
"I thought we played well throughout, except for obviously conceding a few poor goals," said the manager after the 3-3 draw with Villa. "We always knew Aston Villa were going to be a threat, they've got some very good attacking players, but we didn't defend well and that meant it was always going to be a long, hard day for us."
Christian Benteke has proven his quality for Villa this season, but it was poor for Everton to concede three times to a team that had managed only 20 goals before Saturday - the second-worst record in the league.
'Played worst game ever in the shirt of Everton' tweeted Heitinga on Saturday. Still, if you're going to mess up for three goals, you might as well do it all in the same game.
The Rs can't afford to draw at home against the likes of Norwich and they are now four points adrift at the bottom and six from safety. With just 18 goals on the board thus far, news of an injury to Loic Remy could spell the end of QPR's survival bid.
"I have no idea how long he will be out," said Harry Redknapp. Perhaps it was a bad idea to put so much faith in a striker with a poor injury record.
Stoke and Tony Pulis
If you're standing still in the Premier League, you're going backwards. There needs to be a major overhaul at Stoke in the summer if the club want to achieve anything more than simply boasting Premier League status.
Roberto Mancini's claim that the title race is not yet over is almost as unbelievable as his assertion last season that United had wrapped up the league with six games remaining. As Nick Miller said in 16 Conclusions, Mancini's excuse that his team were "too nervous" against Liverpool is rather laughable, and one wonders if that was also the reason for an insipid 0-0 draw with QPR on Wednesday.
The 25th round of fixtures last season saw City leapfrog United at the top of the table to hold a two-point cushion over their rivals, but in the current campaign they have led only once - after 12 games - and have started to look a distant second-best. A lack of goals has been a factor in City failing to convince in recent weeks and they managed only three shots on target against Liverpool on Sunday in a fixture in which they eased to a 3-0 victory last season.
City are missing a spark at the moment and the return of Yaya Toure - who has had a mixed season by his standards - is unlikely to suddenly reinvigorate the team.
The absence of Vincent Kompany was also key on Sunday and Mancini was disappointed with his team's defending. "We conceded two goals, stupid goals for me," said the manager. "But before the first goal there was a big foul - if it had happened with us, probably there would have been a red card."
It was a comment that reeked of desperation and the manager must avoid passing a defeatist attitude on to the players. They simply cannot afford to drop any more points if they are to recover the league from this position.
Saints have now dropped as many points from winning positions as they've gained all season as they blew the perfect chance to earn a first win under Mauricio Pochettino.
"You can never count on winning," said the manager after the 2-2 draw with Wigan. "You always have to wait until the end of the match and that is the same in football all of the time, you can't rest on your laurels, you have to play until the end."
The team have responded positively to Pochettino's appointment, but they need to start winning soon. QPR's visit at the start of March could be crucial after the next two fixtures at home against City and away to Newcastle.
Just two clean sheets in the last 11 matches in all competitions is an indication of where Chelsea's problems lie as their place in the top four starts to look rather precarious. I wrote about Rafa Benitez's situation here and it was difficult for the manager to react to Newcastle pressure in the second half when injuries had left him with such a weak bench.
The Europa League can often be an unwanted distraction for teams who are chasing a Champions League place, but the double-header against Sparta Prague may provide welcome relief for this stuttering Chelsea side. Saturday's home match against Wigan should bring a routine victory, but Demba Ba's probable absence should mean a start for Fernando Torres and probably a frustrating 90 minutes of attacking impotence. Benitez should have insisted on a recall for Romelu Lukaku.
Reina has been fortunate to avoid the same scrutiny as David De Gea this season but his performances have been considerably worse than one would expect. It's time for Liverpool to let him leave in the summer and look for a more reliable replacement.
Spitting isn't very nice.
Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.