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Sorry Jose, Chelsea are as good as champions

Alex Perry
March 7, 2014
If Jose Mourinho takes a clear view, he might change his tune about Chelsea's prospects © Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho and Brendan Rodgers may be tempted to argue with the facts but as two managers known for their attention to detail, their mind games will no longer wash.

The public masks of the managers for league leaders Chelsea and second-place Liverpool have just been cracked by statistics which prove their teams are the clear favourites for the title.

Not once in the 21-season Premier League era has a team outside the top two going into March emerged to win the title - regardless of games played. And only on six occasions have the team in second overhauled their rivals at the summit.

Narrow it down to the last decade and you will find eight of the leaders on March 1 were still there at the season's end.

Mourinho claims he doesn't play mind games but his party line for much of the past few weeks has stayed the same: Chelsea cannot - and will not - be champions in May.

Top two on March 1 for the past 10 seasons

  • * denotes the side that went on to become champions
  • 2012-13

    1. Manchester United *

    2. Manchester City

  • 2011-12

    1. Manchester United

    2. Manchester City *

  • 2010/11

    1. Manchester United *

    2. Arsenal

  • 2009-10

    1. Chelsea *

    2. Manchester United

  • 2008-09

    1. Manchester United *

    2. Chelsea

  • 2007-08

    1. Arsenal

    2. Manchester United *

  • 2006-07

    1. Manchester United *

    2. Chelsea

  • 2005-06

    1. Chelsea *

    2. Manchester United

  • 2004-05

    1. Chelsea *

    2. Manchester United

  • 2003-04

    1. Arsenal *

    2. Chelsea

He said it when his side beat Manchester City at the Etihad: "We are there, but are not favourites. We are preparing the team to be one of the favourites next season and this is a very important step."

He effectively said it when Liverpool thrashed title rivals Arsenal at Anfield: "They have a very young team to develop, the manager is very good, and the fact they don't play Champions League is very important for them."

And he even said it once Chelsea nestled themselves nicely atop the Premier League table: "If I win every game until the end of the season - which we won't - maybe we are not champions. If [Manchester City] win all 12 games they have, they are champions. They have their destiny in their hands."

Rodgers, whose Liverpool side are seven points behind Chelsea, has not quite gone to the same lengths as Mourinho to rule his team out of contention but his go-to line has been: "I'm not focusing on the title", often sharply followed by "I'm focusing on winning the next game."

Club captain Steven Gerrard and star striker Luis Suarez have also largely stuck to a similar line until recently, trying to deflect the focus on to Champions League qualification.

But you have to go back to the 1985-86 season to find a break in the pattern of one of the top two teams at the beginning March becoming champions - perhaps the exception which proves the rule.

Then, Liverpool began March in third place, a whopping 11 points behind Everton and six behind Manchester United. They went on to pip their Merseyside rivals by a single point - while United fell back to fourth behind West Ham.

This weekend has re-emphasised Chelsea's position as favourites. They thrashed Tottenham 4-0 in the league on Saturday, 24 hours before Manuel Pellegrini's men suffered a shock 2-1 FA Cup exit at the hands of Wigan.

City are now nine points adrift, athough have three games in hand.

After taking three points against Spurs, Mourinho will have to clutch at straws to talk up City's fixture advantage again.

Specifically, he might try to fall back on the events of 1997-98, when Arsenal began March 11 points behind United with two games in hand and went on to win the title.

But whether Jose likes it or not, history tells him that Chelsea are as good as champions.

Alex Perry is an assistant editor at ESPN.co.uk. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexPerryESPN

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