José Mourinho played down Chelsea's title hopes after his side overcame Manchester City 1-0 by describing them as the "little horse" in a three-way race that includes Arsenal.
Branislav Ivanovic's first-half winner drew Chelsea level with City on 53 points, Arsenal remaining leaders on 55. City fielded Martín Demichelis, a central defender, in midfield for the injured Fernandinho who may miss up to a month due to a muscle injury. This was the first time they failed to score in 62 home league matches, a run stretching back to a 0-0 draw with Birmingham City on 13 November 2010.
Asked whether Chelsea could become champions for a first time in four seasons, Mourinho said: "I don't agree. We lost points at home against West Brom, against West Ham, we lost at Stoke, we lost at Newcastle. We are a team in evolution but this is the kind of performance that helps the team to grow up a lot, tactically, mentally, I think it was fantastic.
"The next pre-season, me and my players will say openly that we are mature, solid from day one and are candidates for the league. This season is about evolution." He said of Manchester City: "We can [win the title] if they lose it.
"Arsenal are working for many, many years for the evolution of their team. What we are doing this season is what Arsenal have been building to for years. It means nothing for us to come here and park the bus and win 1-0 in a lucky situation. The evolution is more important."
Mourinho insisted that Chelsea were the least favoured of the three clubs vying for the championship. "Two horses and a little horse. A little horse who needs milk and to learn how to jump," he said.
Despite describing Arsenal as favourites to become champions Mourinho said City were the best side. "I think so, no doubts about it. We beat them twice but they are the best team. In the first game we won because Fernando [Torres] was bright, was clever, waited for that back pass. Today we won because we were the best team. We defended very well, we were very compact, we deserved it. We love the big games. Obviously when you love it maybe you feel extra motivated for that and I keep saying, the best thing for the evolution of this team is not to play Europa League, not to be 15-20 points behind the leader but with pressure to be there, to be close to the leaders.
"When we played Arsenal [drawing 0-0] at the Emirates, Arsenal was the leader. Today City was [second]," he said. "This is the best thing that can happen to this team. Maybe Arsenal deserve it more than us. They are top of the league and they are the favourites. We go behind them and play and watch."
Mourinho claimed he had forgone his usual pre-match message to the team. "I didn't speak. It was Billy the masseur that spoke to the team. He was screaming so much in Scottish I didn't understand him. I am serious. But the players were clapping. It was Billy's team-talk," he said.
Manuel Pellegrini was left rueing a personal record against Mourinho that now stands at seven defeats and one win in nine matches. The Chilean chose to blame Fernandinho's absence and other injuries for the loss. "I think that of course [he] is a very important player for us. Not only him, [Sergio] Agüero, [Samir] Nasri, Javi García can play in his position. [James] Milner was not 100%, [Alvaro] Negredo was not 100%, too much advantage for an important team like Chelsea," he said. "We lost against a good team that played very well. It was a very close game and they had the luck to do it."
Despite Milner and Jack Rodwell's presence on the bench, Pellegrini insisted he had no choice but to choose Demichelis alongside Yaya Touré. "Jack Rodwell is coming from an injury for one month," said the manager. "James Milner just worked with us the last day, not 100%. The only option I had was Demichelis. That is why Fernandinho's injury was so important, I had to change the defence."
Pellegrini also insisted that in the context of the title the loss had not harmed City's chances. "For Chelsea it was a decisive game, not for us," he said. "If we win, we were six points ahead of them. Now we are two points behind Arsenal. We have  points to play for."