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Mourinho and Pellegrini rise above the rest

NO shocks and no real surprises, despite Chelsea and Man City's draws yesterday. The festive fixture list has simply underlined what we knew already - it will still be Chelsea and Manchester City who will duke it out for the title.

I watched Chelsea completely dominate a decent Southampton team for most of the 90 minutes at St Mary's yesterday and saw nothing to suggest that Jose Mourinho has anything but complete control of his players' destiny

In fact, I sense a growing maturity about Mourinho and, indeed, from his boss Roman Abramovich who has obviously learned a painful and expensive lesson when it comes to football. Never sack a winner and when you hire one, get out of the way.

It took Abramovich a long time to reach that realisation and, it has to be said, better late than never. First time around, he was arrogant and stupid. This time, he seems to be doing things right.

His eyes are now open and he can see a man in his element, maturing steadily and, I would even say, pulling back from some of the extremes of behaviour which made him such an annoying individual.

There was some double standard nonsense in the last months about diving from Mourinho but, all told, he has been quieter, more thoughtful and less destructive with his mouth since this season got under way.

His main opponent is Manuel Pellegrini who usually favours silence over drama and appears to have successfully lifted his players out of the mildly complacent rut they were in from the start of the season.

I know it may not gel too well with my ideal notion of fiercely committed professional footballers who are always on and always focused, but human beings have limits and Manchester City's best players are no exceptions.

When you win a title, it is fiendishly difficult to match the intensity which won the prize from the moment the new season starts.

In the final month of the season, as a player fighting for a title, you are in a zone which focuses to a single point and nothing else exists or matters.

But it is very, very difficult to reach the same peak in August or November, much as the manager might want it.

If he's sensible, however, he will do what Alex Ferguson did for so many seasons and almost muddle through to Christmas and then demand that his players pick it up and drive towards the title.

That is why I give Manchester City a great chance of retaining their title. Pellegrini is over the hump now and I think his players have woken up.

Good professionals will always respond to a good manager and although they did allow two points to slip away against Burnley, I'm happy enough that when the title race reaches crunch time in four months, Pellegrini and his players won't be far away if they're not on top.