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Is the Premier League Title Race Between Master Mourinho and Apprentice Rodgers?

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Garry HayesFeatured Columnist IVDecember 15, 2016

"If [Manchester City] win all 12 games they have, they are champions. They have their destiny in their hands," Jose Mourinho explained to Sky Sports this week.

If only it was that simple.

The Chelsea manager may continue his attempts to deflect attention from his own players by putting pressure on others, but with every week that passes, it's becoming more difficult for him to publicly ignore the position the Blues find themselves in.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Brendan Rodgers, manager of Liverpool smiles during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on March 1, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

A convincing 3-1 victory over West London rivals Fulham at the weekend has seen Chelsea extend their lead at the top of the Premier League by four points, while Manchester City sit a further two behind Liverpool and Arsenal.

It's true, City do have two games in hand over those teams around them, with their considerable goal difference meaning victories in those matches will put them ahead of the Blues. It's also true that Liverpool's credentials are suddenly looking very real.

When Arsenal slipped up against Stoke City on Saturday, all eyes were on St. Mary's to see if the Reds could capitalize. They did and in considerable style, too, dispatching Southampton 3-0 to cruise into second place.

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - MARCH 01:  Jack Wilshere of Arsenal and his team-mates look dejected after conceding the opening goal during the Barclays Pemier League match between Stoke City and Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium on March 1, 2014 in Stoke on Tr
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Indeed, the irony is that the teams looking strongest in the Premier League right now are those whose managers have played down their chances in the title race.

Mourinho's Chelsea are a little horse, while Rodgers' Liverpool are a mere foal by comparison, if we're to believe both men.

Master vs. Apprentice: We've heard that line rolled out a few times this season, but it was more to do with former Tottenham Hotspur boss Andre Villas-Boas coming head-to-head with Mourinho at White Hart Lane in late September.

Somehow, Rodgers' previous relationship with Mourinho had slipped under the radar. Yet while Villas-Boas is long gone from Chelsea's London rivals, Mourinho's former youth-team coach Rodgers is very much the real deal when it comes to challenging the Portuguese's prowess at the top.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

The Reds have lost just once in 2014, a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup, while they were last defeated in the league on Dec. 29 when Chelsea beat them 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.

With Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in attack, the Reds have a potent attacking threat that has allowed them to compensate for the team's shortcomings elsewhere, simply outscoring opponents at times this season.

Like Chelsea, Liverpool are on a roll and as we approach the business end of the campaign, history tells us it's teams of that ilk who often go on to win things.

In contrast, Arsenal are spluttering. Their strikers aren't scoring, star man Mesut Ozil appears to have lost his inspiration and all around him heads have dropped.

Against Stoke City, Arsene Wenger's side managed a mere one shot on target and have now won just twice in their previous five outings in all competitions.

It's an alarming dip and there's potentially more frustration to come.

The Gunners face Everton in the FA Cup this weekend, while their next four matches on the back of that fixture include away trips to Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, before entertaining Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on March 29.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02:  Manchester City players celebrate victory after the Capital One Cup Final between Manchester City and Sunderland at Wembley Stadium on March 2, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Before the month is out, Arsenal's season could well be over—no FA Cup or Champions League to fight for, while the Premier League could also be out of reach. How that will impact a team whose confidence is notorious for being fragile at the best of times is anyone's guess.

It's a similar story for Capital One Cup winners Manchester City.

Already six points adrift of Chelsea, Manuel Pellegrini's side must wait until March 15 before resuming business in the Premier League. By that time, Chelsea could well be nine points clear as they play Spurs on Saturday, while City compete in the FA Cup.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

Sure, they will have three games in hand, but how will they cope knowing nothing but victory will do? There will be no room for error and the psychological impact that will have, playing twice a week in the knowledge three points is a must, will be considerable.

Meanwhile, Chelsea and Liverpool can sit back relaxed, safe in the knowledge they have done their job. They have points on the board and with just two months remaining of the season, it's far from ideal to be playing catch-up.

The Mourinho factor has always meant Chelsea were considered among the Premier League favorites this year and out of the shadows Liverpool have now appeared. Can City and Arsenal keep up?

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes

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