Chelsea are now four points clear at the top of the Premier League table, thanks to a win over West London rivals Fulham on Saturday. They are six points clear of biggest title rivals Manchester City, but it is a lead that is helped by two extra games.
After Chelsea's win, Jose Mourinho was quick to point out the illusion. Speaking to the BBC, he said, "the gap to Man City is a fake advantage. If they win their [two] games in hand, they're top."
Of course, Mourinho is right; Man City's two games in hand definitely flatter Chelsea and give a skewed perspective of the top of the table. If they win their two games, thanks to a far superior goal difference, they will undoubtedly go top.
However, we now have an international break, followed by an FA Cup sixth-round match against Wigan for Man City—the same weekend in which Chelsea face Tottenham Hotspur. What this means is that by the time Man City return to Premier League action, the following week, Chelsea could hold a lead of nine points over them.
As Mourinho stated, these nine points would be a "fake" lead, but it is one that gives them a real advantage. Throughout his managerial career, Mourinho has repeatedly proven the importance of psychological warfare in a title race, and a nine-point lead gives Chelsea one heck of a mental boost.
Perhaps more significant though, is the pressure that it puts on Man City. Although they will be able to make up these games, they will not be playing for a lead, but to simply catch up with Chelsea. Even if Chelsea cannot beat Tottenham, six or seven points is still a large gap in this title race.
Add to this the fact that Man City have a tough few weeks coming up—in which they will face Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Everton, all away—and it is reasonable to believe that Man City might lag behind their southern rivals for the remainder of the season.
Playing catch-up is never easy, and in this instance it allows for zero mistakes.
Jose Mourinho might be quick to play down the importance of Chelsea's "fake" lead over Manchester City. But behind the talk and projected results lies a real advantage, one that City will have to fight hard to overcome.