LONDON: Manchester City climbed a mountain in overhauling Chelsea and Liverpool in the concluding weeks of last season but Manuel Pellegrini will surely now have to scale an even higher peak to follow Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho in becoming only the third manager to retain a Premier League title.
Yes, a five-point deficit at the start of February is far from decisive but there was plenty in the body language of Pellegrini and the City players as they left Stamford Bridge on Saturday to underline that an opportunity had been missed.
City gathered 86 points last season in eventually prevailing and Pellegrini acknowledged the probability that his team would now need at least 90. He admitted that he was also still glancing over his shoulder and that, amid weekend wins for Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, City's season was not simply about comparisons with Chelsea.
"It's not a fight for two teams, a lot of teams can be involved in the title," Pellegrini said. "Chelsea finished the first half with 45 points - 45 and 45 is 90. It could be more than 90. We have to close a gap of five points, so it's important not to drop more points."
The main positive for City was in how they played. There was, as ever under Pellegrini, no compromise in their attacking style and the second-half introductions of Frank Lampard, Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko reflected which team were -chasing the victory most. Mourinho, by contrast, sacrificed Oscar and Loic Remy in the closing minutes for the added physical presence at set-pieces of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and a third centre-back in Gary Cahill. A parked bus perhaps? However, Pellegrini was in no mood to reopen his feud with Mourinho.
"I am proud of the way we play," he said. "We have a clear style and we don't change because the rival is strong. We deserved it [to win the Premier League] last year because we were the best team. We scored a lot of goals in every competition and I'm very proud to continue the same way."
This might have been one of Mourinho's more pragmatic moments but it would be unfair to conclude that Chelsea have also continued in the same way this season.
The additions of both Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have meant considerable added creativity but, with both players unavailable and the squad collectively jaded from the League Cup semi-final win against Liverpool on Tuesday, this was a moment for balance.
Unlike Brendan Rodgers when Chelsea faced Liverpool at Anfield last season, Mourinho deserves credit for fully recognising when a draw can represent a positive stride towards your end target.
"Chelsea will be favourites, because they have got that gap," Lampard said. "I think on chances, especially in the first half, City were stronger. We were in the dressing room there feeling that we probably might have won. The result is probably better for Chelsea. But you are talking about the two best teams in the country. It's still on. It will be on until the end."
Lampard, of course, had the strange experience of returning, probably for the last time as a player, to Stamford Bridge in the guise of a substitute for City following first-half goals by Remy and David Silva.
There was gratitude and probably also some relief at being afforded such a warm welcome despite no mention of arguably Chelsea's greatest-ever player in Mourinho's programme notes.
"It was lovely at the end to get that reception from the fans," Lampard said. "I'm a lucky boy. I was nervous because this was so different."
And what of Mourinho? Did he speak to his old mentor? "Yes, and we remain close," Lampard said. "I don't think there's room for bitterness, and if there is, then I'll deal with that down the line. I don't know if he is or not. I think probably Jose is concentrating on his team and trying to win the league.
"We are grown men. I'm sure we're both big enough that none of that is going to get in the way of our relationship and how we are personally."
This, then, was not the attention-grabbing title decider that was -promised but, in the pursuit of silverware, the innocuous steps are sometimes most significant. Mourinho knows this and Chelsea will take some dislodging from the Premier League's summit.