Conte created Chelsea's winning ways after defeats
Crystal Palace 0 Chelsea 1
Four matches into his new job Antonio Conte had doubts.
Chelsea had taken 10 points from 12 but rarely convinced. But managers do not change winning teams on a hunch, especially not new ones, certainly not if the players have seen off a succession of garlanded coaches. So Conte waited.
Then Chelsea lost at home to Liverpool, and away at Arsenal. Now Conte was convinced, and the dressing room was receptive. A free week - made possible by Chelsea's absence from Europe - enabled the Italian to drill them on the training ground in an unfamiliar formation: 3-4-3. They went to Hull, kept a clean sheet, and won. They hosted the champions, kept a clean sheet, and won. Three months on they are clear at the top, still keeping clean sheets, still winning.
"In my mind," revealed Conte after the 11th straight win, against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday, "before the game I understood our formation wasn't good to face Liverpool, on the tactical aspect. And we paid for this. And also against Arsenal. And then I decided to change.
"To see my teams have two bad defeats - we deserved two bad defeats - I didn't like this. It changed something in me, in the players, in the club.
"Now we are playing with three central defenders and, in the history of Chelsea, maybe this has never happened. You hope you don't have to change because I have players who have only played with four defenders. To change totally the situation is not easy, and you must go slowly to put your idea across.
"In my mind in the game against Liverpool there was the will to change, but I waited for the right moment, after two bad defeats. Now we have 11 wins, nine clean sheets. It's fantastic, because it's not easy to not concede a goal in this league."
"Eleven games ago we were eight points less than City, now we have 10 points more," added midfielder Nemanja Matic, speaking before City's match with Arsenal on Sunday. "We are where we want to be, but there is still a long way to go and we expect many hard games."
Chelsea next host Bournemouth on Boxing Day. The Cherries' victory at Stamford Bridge was one of the matches that hastened the end for Jose Mourinho as the 2015 champions stumbled from defeat to defeat.
Matic, however, added: "We've confidence now. We work very hard every day in training and we understand each other very well."