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...
A dogged display of unity and determination with two well-taken, albeit slightly fortuitous goals. Spurs were below their best as an attacking force on Sunday, but they profited from some particularly poor Arsenal defending to continue their recent trend of grinding out wins. Andre Villas-Boas' side simply don't know when to give in at the moment, winning eight and drawing four of their last 12 Premier League fixtures with six of those victories being decided by a single goal.
The ability to eke out narrow results could prove crucial in Spurs' fraught finale to the season, with a forthcoming double header against Internazionale in the Europa League and testing top-flight clashes away to Liverpool, Chelsea and Stoke and at home against Manchester City and Everton. With ten league fixtures remaining, it's likely Spurs' seven-point lead over fifth will be pushed right to the wire by an Arsenal side with a much more favourable run of matches soon to be their only focus.
"It's not a big enough margin yet for us to be completely safe," said Villas-Boas after his first victory in a north London derby and first fixture against Arsenal in which his team didn't concede five goals.
"Obviously we will approach the Liverpool game with extreme care - they are on a good run too and play excellent football too."
Perhaps a smidgen of encouragement ahead of the trip to Anfield is that Liverpool haven't beaten any of the teams currently above them in the league this season, while Spurs have also won four of their last five fixtures against the Reds. The ridiculous ease with which Liverpool brushed Wigan aside on Saturday was certainly no preparation for Spurs' visit at the weekend and, considering they have nothing left to play for but pride, there is always a chance that Brendan Rodgers' side could take their foot off the gas.
Spurs are also boosted by the return of Jermain Defoe, Gylfi Sigurdsson's semblance of form (an assist and a goal in his last two appearances, but I'm still not convinced about how much he can offer in the run-in) and Gareth Bale's relentless drive to score as many goals as possible at whichever end of the pitch.
It's incredible to think that Spurs' two main strikers have just two strikes between them in the last ten Premier League fixtures, but with Clint Dempsey also expected to return at the weekend following a two-game absence with a calf injury, Villas-Boas will be satisfied with the options he has available for a tense conclusion to the campaign.
Considering the psychological impact of last year's collapse, the managerial change in the summer, the loss of Sandro to injury and the poor form of Adebayor and Defoe, it really has been some achievement by Spurs to put themselves in such a strong position to qualify for the Champions League with ten matches remaining.
A brilliant performance to outshine his compatriot and opposite number on Sunday, Thomas Vermaelen. Vertonghen is another player who caught the eye of Arsenal in the summer before they decided not to pursue a move, much to Spurs' gratification.
The comfort of a 15-point lead for at least 24 hours longer than last time, with Manchester City more embroiled in a battle for second than any faint notion of a title race. While Norwich's threat was snuffed out with ease - the Canaries became the first team not to record a single shot (excluding blocked attempts) in a Premier League match this season - Sir Alex Ferguson will also have been encouraged by the performances of Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney ahead of Tuesday's clash with Real Madrid.
Kagawa's selection against Norwich perhaps hinted that Ferguson had planned to leave him on the bench on Tuesday, with Danny Welbeck likely to start on the left of the trio playing behind Robin van Persie. The summer signing from Borussia Dortmund struggled in the first leg of United's last-16 tie in the Santiago Bernabeu before his substitution in the 64th minute, but Ferguson leapt to his defence after the game.
"I thought in the first half-hour in Madrid he was terrific and he was making some great runs through them," he said. "We thought that was going to be one of our biggest assets in the game, someone to play in the second balls, and he was just unlucky with a couple of heavy touches on the ball.
"If people don't see that, it's actually unfair."
While Kagawa has been unlucky with injuries in his first full season, it seems Ferguson has also struggled to find him a regular position in the first team. Although the playmaker was nominally on the left on Saturday, he was allowed to drift across the front line, scoring thrice from positions he had picked up on the centre-right on the penalty area, or the Conservative channel as it is sometimes known.
Real Madrid certainly wouldn't afford Kagawa similar space and freedom on Tuesday, but the nonchalant way in which the Japan international completed his hat-trick - and the confidence that should stem from his performance - provide a persuasive argument for his inclusion. Kagawa's second strike was particularly enjoyable, as he pushed the ball home like a golfer on a putting green. "He plays like an angel," said Nuri Sahin when the pair were at Dortmund together, and it was difficult to argue with the former Liverpool loanee's praise on Saturday.
They couldn't, could they? On a weekend in which Reading and Wigan both lost (with Aston Villa expected to lose in a few hours) QPR took an axe to the seven-point gap to safety and hacked off a sizeable chunk to announce their return to the survival race. Perhaps newspaper reports on Saturday morning of heavy drinking sessions on a recent trip to Dubai played a part in galvanising the team, while the omission of regular starters Adel Taarabt and Jamie Mackie was also intriguing.
It was certainly odd for Harry Redknapp to take Sandra to Dubai and stay in a separate hotel (it's almost as if he doesn't really want to be at QPR), but the manager switched his post-match language from 'them' to 'us' in time to celebrate a huge win against Southampton that gives the Rs a much-needed shot of adrenalin.
"All I wanted today was to come here and try to get a win, whether it was here or anywhere else we needed a win," said Redknapp.
"It was a great result for us. We didn't have anybody not working. When we didn't have the ball, everybody worked."
That Loic Remy scored a second Premier League goal from only his third shot since joining QPR highlighted the importance of having quality in the final third and the striker's fitness is vital to a team that haven't found the net in five home matches.
Park Ji-Sung's sudden spark on Saturday was also a key factor in victory, while the inclusion of Jay Bothroyd and Rob Green appears, somewhat perversely, to strengthen the Rs' challenge and siege mentality. Adel Taarabt and Julio Cesar are both clearly better players than their counterparts, but the former has lacked composure and the necessary fight in recent weeks, while Cesar has looked a bit spilly as he struggles with a groin problem.
With Villa, Wigan and Reading to come, there is perhaps still hope for QPR to save themselves from impending financial doom.
A walk in the park at Wigan, with the Latics dispatched in stunning fashion by a deadly hat-trick from Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan's link-up play with Philippe Coutinho at the weekend, and also Daniel Sturridge since his arrival, has made a mockery of claims from earlier in the season that he would struggle to form a partnership in the final third and was best left to his own devices. Imagine where Liverpool could be now if they hadn't been left with the promising but raw Raheem Sterling, an out-of-form Stewart Downing and struggling summer signings Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi as their attacking options before January.
An interesting statistic revealed by Opta over the weekend is that Liverpool have scored more goals after 28 games than four Premier League title winning sides (Man Utd 92/93, 02/03 and 08/09, and Arsenal 97/98). And the Reds have notched an impressive total of 30 strikes in their last 11 top-flight matches, banishing the spectre of profligacy against the division's lesser weights.
It's clear that Liverpool's main problem this season has been the wall they have run into every time they have faced a team at the top end of the table. Usually they have had only themselves to blame, self-combusting against City and United at Anfield earlier in the season and throwing away leads at the Etihad and the Emirates in 2013, as well as exiting the Europa League at the first knock-out stage.
The Reds have improved as the campaign has progressed, yet at times they resemble a cadavre exquis, with the torso and head both finely sculpted but the legs and feet appearing as a child's crayon scribble. Six clean sheets in the six thrashings handed out in the last 11 Premier League fixtures shouldn't hide the fact that when matches have really mattered - against City, Arsenal and United, Zenit St Petersburg and even Oldham - Liverpool's defence simply hasn't been strong enough to stand up to the challenge.
With Jamie Carragher set to retire in the summer and disquiet over Martin Skrtel's future, Brendan Rodgers has a job on his hands to rebuild a defence that has conceded eight more goals (or 31%) than at this stage last season. That Wigan were allowed more shots on goal than Liverpool on Saturday and as many on target as the Reds - with Pepe Reina making several excellent saves - underlines the porous nature of a back four that will be stretched hither and thither by Gareth Bale at the weekend.
The biggest win of the season so far, according to Sam Allardyce. And who would argue with him after the Hammers eased their troubles on the road in one of the hardest away fixtures in the Premier League.
Chelsea and Rafa Benitez
A routine victory and some respite for Rafa, but Chelsea now look the most vulnerable to Arsenal's quest to break into the top four. How crucial those two victories over the Gunners could prove.
Allowing a two-goal lead to slip against Sunderland is one of the worst crimes in football.
He may be good at converting penalties, but the Sunderland utility man has also conceded two in the last two matches.
The joint-second lowest scorers in the Premier League, tied with relegation-threatened Aston Villa. Only seven wins in 28 matches and just eight goals scored away from home all season. A truly joyless team to watch, the worst disciplinary record in the top flight and a manager who is all blame and no shame. The fans deserve better.
"You have to accept there is going to be criticism," said Tony Pulis after Saturday's defeat to West Ham.
"It's such a tough job at this level. The fans want improvement year after year. But someone has to take a reality check now and again."
That 'someone' should be Peter Coates after he looks at how much has been invested in Stoke's team of underperformers.
March fixtures against Man United and Arsenal ensure a frustrating delay to Reading's survival bid, and they desperately need three points against Aston Villa on Saturday. If Brian McDermott's side can pick up nine points at home to Villa, Southampton and QPR, they stand a chance of an unlikely escape.
Southampton and Mauricio Pochettino
I've tried not to get too giddy over Pochettino despite Southampton making an encouraging start to the manager's reign with impressive performances against Everton, Man United and Man City. Three defeats in six matches represents a backwards step from the form that preceded Nigel Adkins' sacking and Saturday's loss to QPR ensures that the bottom five will be embroiled in a relegation dogfight until the death.
The main concern for Pochettino is the Saints defence, which has kept only four clean sheets all season. Danny Fox's return to the starting line-up against QPR made little sense given his desperate performance in the 4-2 defeat at Newcastle, and the Saints were better off after the left-back was replaced by Luke Shaw after 57 minutes.
That the Rs were allowed to score twice despite only 33% possession highlights a smash-and-grab victory, with Southampton lacking concentration at key moments. The two goals they conceded were entirely avoidable, with a simple ball over the top finding Remy in acres of space before Park robbed Maya Yoshida to cross for Jay Bothroyd to score the winner.
"We have to accept that because we made some mistakes," said Pochettino after the match. "We've tried very hard. We've put in a great effort to try and get a different kind of result."
It's vital that Saints pick up at least a point against Norwich on Saturday before the visits of in-form Liverpool and a Chelsea team with a great deal to play for and a 5-1 victory at St Mary's already achieved this season.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger
"We don't prepare for anybody," was Arsene Wenger's shameless admission on Friday and after Arsenal's 3-1 humping at home to Bayern Munich, it suddenly all made sense.
I questioned Wenger's over-reliance on his team's 'quality' in the wake of the Bayern defeat, and the manager's skewed focus on the Gunners' strengths rather than those of the opposition was again detrimental on Sunday. Considering the pace of Gareth Bale and his eagerness to run in behind from the flanks, it was foolish to play such a high line and invite an opportunity that was gratefully received after Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal switched off. Although different in execution, there were similarities in Bale's strike and his recent winner against Newcastle, with the winger taking full advantage of his ability to break inside at speed as the defence tried to push up.
Arsenal's problems were exacerbated by Wojciech Szczesny's delayed reactions to close down both Bale and Aaron Lennon. The main reason Andre Villas-Boas has been able to install a high defensive line at Spurs this season is that Hugo Lloris often acts as a sweeper at the back when he is required to rush from his penalty area. While Lloris again demonstrated his alertness on Sunday, Szczesny was sluggish in reacting to both Spurs goals.
Nick Miller has covered Arsenal's problems in depth in 16 Conclusions and there are almost too many to list at the moment. Before the defensive collapse, the Gunners looked in command in the first half without really threatening Lloris' goal. Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey again proved themselves to be icons of the onset of mediocrity, with the striker ponderous and weak and Ramsey facing the wrong way for most of the first half before wasting an excellent opportunity to score in the second.
It was also reasonable to expect more from Arsenal's highest earner, but Theo Walcott was largely anonymous as Benoit Assou-Ekotto and the impressive Vertonghen safeguarded the right wing and Conservative channel. Although Wilshere was surprisingly subdued on Sunday, one wonders how long it will be before he demands parity with Walcott, considering his crucial role to Arsenal's success and performances this season.
Although the Gunners attempted to mount a typical second-half fight-back, they looked devoid of ideas in attack as they struggled to create clear-cut chances. Indeed, that they managed only two shots on target, with Spurs having more attempts after the break, tells a story of its own, separate to the defensive shambles that ultimately lost the match.
All is not quite lost in the race for third or fourth, but now there really can be no more slip-ups. Victory at Swansea is imperative.
Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.
I think you'll find that Sky News is actually the Conservative channel.- Hallicks