Debrief: Why the title is Chelsea's to lose this season
Chelsea's title in their own hands
OK, so technically it's not - if Manchester City win all of their remaining 12 games they'll be crowned champions. But in a season of topsy-turvy ups and downs, there's no way Manuel Pellegrini's men will be snatching back the trophy with such ease.
Instead, the smart money's on Chelsea to claim their first title in four years. Disappointing draws against West Ham and West Brom have proved there are still slip-ups in the Blues, but generally speaking they're the best placed team to land the title.
Firstly, they've already got points on the board over City, despite the northerners' two games in hand with a much better goal difference. But while City still face trips to Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton, Chelsea's run-in looks the simplest of the four contenders: of the top teams, they host Tottenham and Arsenal, with a potentially intriguing visit to Anfield.
It took them 52 minutes to unlock a seemingly doomed Fulham side at Craven Cottage, but by full-time Andre Schürrle's hat-trick and Eden Hazard's camera-pleasing trickery made it look straightforward. They're probably going to be the only English side left in Europe by the quarter-finals, but with City capable of collapsing, Liverpool still four points behind and Arsenal falling by the wayside, it seems Jose Mourinho may have plenty of reasons for smugness come May. Like he needs an excuse...
Arsenal and Stoke should get a room
As far as unlikely rivalries go, this one is pretty big these days. Neither set of supporters have forgotten that Aaron Ramsey incident four years ago, not helped by Arsenal fans' regular Lord of the Rings taunts about Stoke's population, Potters fans' booing of Ramsey ever since (because how dare he have his leg broken?), and Charlie Adam threatening to restart the painful cycle all over again with horrible challenges like yesterday's on Olivier Giroud.
But even away from that, there's something about these two sides that turns even the most respectable fans into insufferable whingers. Ultimately, Arsenal fans will never like their Staffordshire adversaries because they can't beat them away from their own patch. Since Stoke's first season in the Premier League (08/09), the two sides have faced off seven times at the Britannia Stadium. The Gunners have won one of those - on the day of Ramsey's ordeal - and lost four, including an FA Cup fourth-round clash in 2010.
Yesterday's 1-0 win for Stoke, then, was hardly surprising. It's a result that leaves Arsenal four points behind Chelsea at the top, with consecutive league fixtures against Tottenham, Chelsea (both away), Manchester City (home) and Everton (away) to come next. That customary crumble is happening already.
Man City got what they paid for
Fifty-nine seconds was all it took for Manchester City to turn this season's League Cup final on its head, and earn Manuel Pellegrini his first trophy at the Etihad.
Fabio Borini's early opener had given Sunderland a deserved lead by half-time, but somehow you just knew - stout defending or otherwise - that City would come up trumps. The two players who transformed this game were not Pellegrini signings, but have performed admirably under the Chilean so far this season: Yaya Toure, whose 17th goal of the season on 55 minutes was a joy to behold, and Samir Nasri, who crashed home another fine effort less than a minute later. Unsurprisingly, Toure called his long-range stunner the best goal of his career.
Summer capture Jesus Navas rounded off a comfortable second half for the title hopefuls, in a display where quality was king. Manchester City's goalscorers cost a combined £64 million, and eventually their class prevailed against Gus Poyet's plucky underdogs, whose excellent first half wasn't replicated after the break.
City players will be chuffed with their first silverware of the season, but they know as well as anyone else that there are bigger fish to fry. Rediscovering their fearsome early-season league form is what Pellegrini really wants.
Chris Hughton's time may well be up
It looks like chief executive David McNally might finally have the excuse he needs to give Norwich's suffering manager the boot. "It would be almost delinquent not be aware of potential candidates, if for any reason your manager left," he scoffed two weeks ago, jabbing the knife into the Canaries' current boss before Norwich beat Tottenham at Carrow Road.
That vital win might have saved the former Spurs man for another week, but the Norfolk side's disappointing 4-1 loss against Aston Villa probably won't be enough. It was all looking rosy when former Villa target Wes Hoolahan put Hughton's side ahead inside three minutes, but a monstrous double from Christian Benteke turned the tide within two first-half minutes. It was game over when Leandro Bacuna and a Sebastien Bassong own goal compounded their misery before the break.
Norwich officials now have a tough decision to make. It's not like Hughton's ejection hasn't been coming for a while, but the men upstairs need a swift plan if they're to push the big red button after this result. The Canaries' upcoming run of fixtures is kind, but they must take positive results from the majority of their next six fixtures. Why? Try this: their final four fixtures are Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Incredibly they're still closer to the top half than the bottom, but you do the maths.
Swansea flatter to deceive... again
They got rid of Michael Laudrup because their bark was worse than their bite, but it seems Swansea haven't learned much since the Dane's dismissal.
Sunday's 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace was a game Garry Monk's men should have strolled away with at the Liberty Stadium. But instead, yet again, the Swans' toothless passing game produced just one goal and seven attempts. They boasted almost 70% possession against Tony Pulis' men; after 33 minutes, they had amassed seven times as many passes as their visitors.
By full-time that was down to a mere three times as many - 621 to Palace's 202 - but converted that dominance into just 88 successful passes in the visitors' final third. Palace, more direct on the counter-attack led by Yannick Bolasie (with mixed success), managed just 24 fewer. Chico's professional foul with nine minutes to go left Swansea with 10 men and handed Glenn Murray a 12-yard opportunity to score his first Premier League goal.
Thursday's energy-sapping Europa League second leg defeat at Napoli won't have helped, but this is a story all too familiar for Swansea fans. In the last fortnight they've slipped four places from 10th to 14th, and been knocked out of the FA Cup and Europe. It's virtually season over time for the Swans, and only alive for the wrong reasons - a potential relegation battle for their troubles.