The value of mind games if played well

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson takes his seat in the stands before their English Premier League soccer match against Liverpool at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England, March 16, 2014.

Both Jose Mourinho and Brendan Rodgers have downplayed their clubs' chances of winning the English Premier League (EPL) title. But don't be taken in entirely by what they profess in public.

Privately, I am sure that they must be telling the Chelsea and Liverpool players respectively that they have what it takes to go all the way in the final run-in.

Alex Ferguson was an expert at mind games and it is common for many managers to do the same, in a bid to reduce pressure on their players and undermine their opponents.

Mourinho, for example, has declared that Manchester City, and not his team, are the favourites for the EPL title. While Rodgers has long maintained that the Reds are not title contenders. Interestingly, both teams are first and second in the EPL respectively.

In short, don't take them too seriously.

One thing that I have always appreciated while representing Singapore was coach Raddy Avramovic's ability to reduce expectations of us.

We were under great pressure to win the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2012 but he claimed that other nations were more likely to end up winners.

Privately, he told us he believed in us and that we could go all the way, and that gave us confidence without the added expectations from the media and the fans.

Footballers are used to playing under pressure but less focus from the media and fans will cut down on distractions and lead to better performances. This was a major factor in us winning the Cup.

Other than mind games by managers to gain an edge over rivals, players will also seek ways to gain an advantage in title races too, as exemplified by Daniel Sturridge's dive for the third penalty against Manchester United on Sunday.

All players want to win games and titles, so it is inevitable that they may make spur-of-the-moment decisions to go to ground to gain an advantage for their team.

Diving has became common in Tuesday's game. And, while referees have a tough job, given how they have to make decisions in a split second, more should be done to stop diving. I'm for heavier punishment if that will help.

The last thing anyone would want is for a dive to decide the title.

One thing fans can be sure, though, is that this season's title race is promising to be an exciting affair.

In the past few seasons, title races have been relatively straightforward with only two teams, if not one, in contention. This season sees four teams right in the mix for the title, and the return of fallen giants Liverpool makes the league much more interesting.

On Sunday, I had expected United to put up a better fight against Liverpool. This never materialised with the conservative tactics adopted by David Moyes.

The players looked short of confidence, in contrast to Liverpool who will definitely take heart from their ability to perform in a big game like this and to dominate last year's champions.

I think United are in trouble and it will be interesting to see what they can do next season. Liverpool, on the other hand, are the in-form team and could go on to lift the EPL crown.

The pressure will be on City to play catch-up due to their games in hand. With three teams ahead of them, the Citizens will have to win their games in hand in order to overtake the pack.

They have a great team though, so I think they might just be able to do it.

At the other end of the table, the relegation dogfight is proving to be a good advertisement for the league too.

Smaller teams are aware how much money is at stake if they stay up, and this has lead to fierce competition at the bottom too.

Pepe Mel got his first win at the eighth attempt to propel West Brom three points clear of the drop zone, while the first victory for Fulham since New Year's Day sees the bottom club close the gap on their closest relegation rivals to just one point.

With teams fighting to stay up, they could cause upsets in matches against the leading pack too.

It is shaping up to be quite a close finish, with much still to play for - despite what some managers say.

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