The title is Manchester United's in all but name. Arithmetic states that another point is required, away to Blackburn Rovers or at home to Blackpool, but the matter, in effect, was settled here. Chelsea, the reigning Premier League champions, were forced to confront their own inferiority at Old Trafford. The narrow score misrepresented the authority of Sir Alex Ferguson's players, who had scored after 37 seconds.
Few would have anticipated that United would exercise such domination of Chelsea. Michael Carrick maintained order in midfield to establish a basis for control, but the fixture did not have an academic or technical tone. Ferguson has weighed up these foes and obviously come to the conclusion that there is no need to treat them with particular caution. Chelsea were stretched and baffled by the movement of United.
In the aftermath of this occasion, it is suddenly recalled that United had defeated them home and away in the Champions League quarter-final. If anything, the opponents were less capable still in this encounter. United had come to the conclusion that Chelsea have lost some of the former durability. Much as David Luiz is an excellent footballer, the Chelsea centre-half will need to master the basics of defending if he is to fulfil his potential.
This was no time for kindness and Luiz had to give way to the more rudimentary Alex at half-time. The manager, Carlo Ancelotti, reported the player had a minor injury, but poised and talented as the Brazilian so obviously is there was still nothing to conceal his vulnerability as United mounted their onslaught.
This was a throwback to the exuberant United of former days, when Ryan Giggs attacked with devastating speed. Time has diminished the acceleration, but impact continues to be achieved because of his shrewdness. Chelsea also have men who are edging into the veteran category and none of them could cast aside their age. With their two early goals, United must have made them feel obsolete.
Chelsea did find the net through Frank Lampard to trim the lead, but the score is deceptive. They were never likely to be denied and the inevitable point or three will make them champions of England for the 19th time, so eclipsing Liverpool's record.
Despite football's cosmopolitan cast, the old grudges and rivalries have not become obsolete. In the Old Trafford stands, there may have been nearly as much crowing over that milestone. When Ferguson was appointed a quarter-of-a-century ago, overthrowing the Anfield club was his principal aim.
Success was far from immediate on that front, but Liverpool, picking up nicely under Kenny Dalglish's management, will know more clearly than ever that the onus is now on them to undermine a dominant power. It will take some doing while Ferguson is around.
Chelsea have no role in the conflicts of the north-west, yet they also have to rethink. In some senses the outcome of this fixture is a minor consideration, since the necessity of reshaping the squad was already obvious, but defeat cannot have helped Ancelotti's prospects of dodging the sack.
Football changes rapidly and the line of credit he enjoyed after completing the double a year ago is all but exhausted. Chelsea awakened some interest when trimming United's 2-0 lead, but there was no concerted challenge against a much superior side.
The opposition harmed them immediately. Park Ji-sung had sent Javier Hernández through for the opener in the first few moments. The visitors' durability vanished and United struck again after 23 minutes. Giggs took a short corner, had the ball returned to him and sent in a deep cross that was headed in by a loosely marked Nemanja Vidic.
The acrimony associated with this fixture came later, with the referee Howard Webb showing tolerance when, for instance, declining to show Branislav Ivanovic the second yellow card he probably deserved. It was a raw sort of day, with Wayne Rooney alleged to have gesticulated at visiting fans, but Chelsea felt the sting of this occasion most of all. The pursuit of United had been in vain.
Any question about the outcome ended with the Vidic goal, although Lampard did score after Ivanovic had knocked a cross by the substitute Ramires into his path with 68 minutes gone. Ferguson's side can begin to focus on a Champions League final against Barcelona. While that will be a challenge of a higher order United are entitled to pause and relish their work on the domestic scene.
Their points total will be 82 at most, but United have exercised as much control as circumstances demanded. Edwin van der Sar did make good saves, but it never looked likely that Chelsea would completely repair the grave damage done at the outset and Ferguson grumbled about penalty appeals denied. The form of Ancelotti's squad had been outstanding of late, but that was still a prolonged and unavailing effort to compensate for previous lapses. Ultimately, the superiority of United has been demonstrated. The lead should have been greater still, but an unmarked Hernández headed high from Antonio Valencia's cross in the 86th minute.
While the result did not reflect the trouncing that had been inflicted, everyone present understood United's superiority.