Positions one and two were settled, for me, on Saturday evening. Not that there ever seemed much doubt about Chelsea’s title credentials; it was just that they filled in a significant gap (to which Bradford City had pointed with four FA Cup goals) by withstanding everything Manchester City could throw at them and still getting a reasonably comfortable draw, which was enough for Jose Mourinho after City’s home defeat by Arsenal.
My pre-match suspicion was that, given Chelsea’s loss of their most prolific (Diego Costa) and creative (Ces Fabregas) players, much might depend on the contest between Sergio Aguero and young Kurt Zouma. It did. Aguero tried all his wiles and invertentently made David Silva’s goal but still could not outshine the hugely impressive 20-year-old, whose combination of physique, pace and judgment on the ball makes the £12 million Chelsea paid St Etienne for him look a bargain.
Lucky France too. Or perhaps we should offer congratulations to France’s academies for proving that the worldwide shortage of central defenders can be addressed. Mourinho knows, for at Real Madrid he was able to utilise the brilliant Raphael Varane, who is only 18 months older than Zouma. When Zouma is capped, as he surely will be before France host the European Championship next year, they could make quite a pair.
Just to be French is not enough, for Eliaquim Mangala has been a mixed bag since his £32 million arrival at City and only on this weekend, when Mamadou Sakho excelled against West Ham, did it occur to most Liverpool fans that £15 million might have been a decent price for him. But Zouma has a more composed air than either of these compatriots.
That he also has a bit to learn was proved by his participation, alongside Gary Cahill, in the Bradford debacle. But, with the experience and class of John Terry by his side, the new boy was at ease and, if Mourinho keeps him in the side, Zouma could end up with a title medal to show for his first season in England.
Chelsea could even afford a rare error by Thibaut Courtois and, while they cannot afford to drop more than a couple of points in the matches away to Aston Villa on Saturday then at home to Everton the following Wednesday, Diego should return from his suspension still a table-topper, refreshed and ready to see his colleagues through the concluding 13 fixtures (and, perhaps, become a subject of another debate, similar to the one over Luis Suarez, about whether occasionally over-the-edge characters make suitable Footballers Of The Year).
So, if you accept that Chelsea and City will be champions and runners-up, who finishes third? I’d have bet at least an outhouse on Manchester United until this weekend, when, although Louis van Gaal’s team beat Leicester in a measure of style, others made clear their determination to finish the season strongly.
Above all Arsenal, clearly. They beat Aston Villa 5-0 without appearing to break sweat. But the history of this campaign (and others) indicates that Arsene Wenger’s men are only ever a turned corner away from disillusion and in this case it could come just a few miles from home when they meet Tottenham in a Saturday-lunchtime derby all the more appetising for Spurs’ ruthless triumph at West Bromwich.
Whenever you wonder if Harry Kane is about to enter a dip in form, he answers with a performance. At the Hawthorns it involved two goals, including a beauty in open play, and, with Christian Eriksen again chipping in a consummate free-kick, there is something of real promise developing under Mauricio Pochettino’s wing. A White Hart Lane victory would put Spurs above Arsenal.
But defeat for either would leave them vulnerable to the rise of Liverpool, who themselves have a derby at Goodison to contend with. And we should know by now not to write off Southampton, even though their home defeat by Swansea make them the main losers of the weekend in this battle for Champions League places. It is becoming the highlight of this Premier League - as fascinating as last season’s title race.