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Mourinho and Pellegrini rise above the rest

So far, the festive fixture rush has simply underlined what we knew already. Chelsea and Manchester City are a level above the rest in this title race.

I watched Chelsea 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 over his players' destiny

He cut loose after the game and that was disappointing because up to that point, I thought he was much more low key in his approach to controversy than he has been in the past.

On the subject of diving, though, he has plenty of previous and a very obvious blind spot when it comes to his own players.

But apart from that, this season he seems to be growing into his role as a senior Premier League boss. First time around, he was arrogant and stupid. This time, he seems to be doing things right.

He has been helped by Roman Abramovich's willingness to give him the conditions he wanted.

It is plain to me that Abramovich's eyes are wide open now 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 can make him such an annoying individual.

His diving double standard remains a problem but all told, I think he has been quieter, more thoughtful and less destructive with his mouth since this season began. Mind you, there's plenty of time left for that to change.

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.

ZONE

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, and I'm pretty sure he is, 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.

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.


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