with Nick Pulford
Chelsea are just 90 minutes away from the ultimate victory in an English Premier League season that has brought upheaval and exciting change, but at the top has come down once again to the two teams who have shared the title between them for six consecutive seasons.
As long as Chelsea navigate their way to three points in tomorrow's final home game against Wigan - and few expect choppy waters against a team who have accumulated not even half the points of the champions-elect - Carlo Ancelotti will emerge as the big winner of the season.
The Italian will have dashed Manchester United's hopes of four titles in a row and put Roman Abramovich's club back at the top for the first time since the heady years of Jose Mourinho's whirlwind arrival in English soccer.
And he will have done so in a style that Mourinho could not match, as Ancelotti's Chelsea have scored 95 goals in the Premier League and become the first top-flight team in almost 50 years to notch seven goals in three separate league games.
If Ancelotti goes on to complete the first double since 2002 - and again Chelsea will start as strong favourites against Portsmouth in next week's FA Cup final - he will have the two most important pieces of silverware in English football.
United, meanwhile, will have only the League Cup. Despite the marvellous efforts of Wayne Rooney, who has plugged the gap left by Cristiano Ronaldo almost single-handedly, this is going to be viewed as a disappointing season unless there is an unexpected late turnaround in the title race.
The season has ended on a flat note for Arsenal, who somehow stayed in the title race until the final weeks, but have not won anything in five years, while for Liverpool the entire campaign has been little short of disastrous. Sixth is their best hope now and, having gone out of the Champions League at the group stage, they could not even redeem themselves by reaching the Europa League final.
Liverpool were touted as champions-in-waiting at the start of the season, but failed to live up to that billing. If Rafa Benitez heads to Juventus, the trade deficit of ?79 million (about HK$900 million) during his six-year reign won't seem like money well spent despite the 2005 Champions League triumph.
Among the big four, only Chelsea emerge with great credit domestically and even they shared in the failure of English clubs to make a significant impact in the Champions League this season. Perhaps that is a sign of fading power in Europe for the top English clubs, though that is far from certain with Italian football producing nothing apart from the Mourinho-inspired Inter Milan, Spain dominated by the usual big two and only one or two other clubs able to challenge at the highest level.
The challenge to the big four on home soil has gained impetus this season and, even if Liverpool were the only members of the elite to be dragged down this season, there must be some unease even at Chelsea and United about the prospect of Champions League money flowing to Tottenham and of fresh investment at Manchester City.
For punters and fans, the emergence of a big six would reinvigorate the Premier League as the world's best, as no other major league can match that depth of quality and competitiveness. Six teams going for four Champions League places, and all with some hope of a title challenge, would make for a great battle.
The winners further down the Premier League are harder to discern. Aston Villa and Everton have tried hard as usual, but Villa, like Everton last year, have found that the big four present a formidable barrier even to cup success. Without more money, both clubs are likely to find that holding a top-six place will be difficult, never mind challenging for fourth.
Fulham, of course, have been buoyed by their Europa League exploits and have become a solid mid-table side under Roy Hodgson, while Carson Yeung Ka-sing's Birmingham City have joined them in that area thanks to the disciplined approach of manager Alex McLeish.
For the rest, survival has been paramount and, in achieving that essentially limited goal, perhaps only Wolves have any great reason to celebrate, having stayed up for a second season along with Birmingham. Even so, there is a yawning gap between mid-table and the strugglers and the fact that Bolton, Wigan, Wolves and West Ham have all survived with fewer than 40 points indicates that their difficulties will continue.
Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, the two clubs certain of promotion, might well shoot past those strugglers into safer waters next season.
As for the relegated teams, two have shown how not to do it and the other might yet reap the rewards of careful husbandry. Hull and Portsmouth are both in a precarious financial state after spending beyond their means, while Burnley may not have stayed up, but at least they have stayed solvent.
Unless there is a dramatic ending, the season will fizzle out tomorrow, with little riding on most games. The best bet appears to be Manchester City, who will be keen to avoid slipping another place after the disappointment of missing out on the Champions League and are capable of winning at West Ham, while Birmingham might be able to deliver at bigger odds on their trip to Bolton.
Wins out of 11 for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge against teams outside the top eight: 11
Points won by Chelsea after conceding first - a key plank of their resurgence: 15
Away defeats out of nine against top-half teams for Blackburn and Portsmouth: 9
Top five bets
1 Dortmund away win
Good chance of victory at struggling but safe Freiburg
2 Bayern Munich away win
Can end on a high in top-versus-bottom clash
3 Charlton away win
Sure to be going all out for the win that could secure promotion
4 Villarreal home win
Rate excellent value to get the better of bigger local rivals
5 Manchester City away win
Excellent win rate against bottom-half teams
Shortist: Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Charlton, Villarreal, Lazio, Manchester City