It's not difficult to develop a sense of myopia watching this Premier League season unfold, but we should remember that, two months ago, Chelsea did not look like a team worthy of dethroning Leicester City as the champions. Just three games in, questions were raised about Antonio Conte - as laughable as it seems now - and whether he could rebuild this Chelsea side sufficiently to launch their bid for a fifth Premier League title.
The Blues were handed a massive psychological blow when Liverpool beat them at Stamford Bridge in September, with Conte forced into a grim post-mortem of his team's poor display, particularly the first-half. Then, a week later, the animated Italian watched with extreme vexation from the touchline as his players were outclassed by a Mesut Ozil-inspired Arsenal, falling to a 3-0 defeat at the Emirates - again a catastrophic first-half shattering their game plan.
Conte was refreshingly unreserved in his post-match assessment. "We are a great team on paper, not on the pitch," he said. It's important, too, especially in the context of the season's emerging narrative, that Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool continued to attract rapturous appraisals for their free-scoring, hard-running displays that catapulted them to the table's summit. And yet, although Klopp's exhilarating Liverpool team represent strong candidates for glory this year, Chelsea have recovered to the point where it's difficult to see beyond a Stamford Bridge-bound trophy.
Sunday's victory over Middlesbrough lifted Chelsea to the top and the result was the shimmering apex of Conte's extraordinary transformation. It was during the second-half of that wretched defeat to Arsenal that Conte decided enough was enough. His defenders, horribly dragged out of position by a slick Gunners unit all day, looked hopeless in their attempts to keep the scoreline semi-respectable. Conte withdrew a wholly ineffective Cesc Fabregas and brought on Marcos Alonso.
The switch saw the summer signing from Fiorentina slot into left wing-back and, from that point, Chelsea resembled a fairly cohesive side, stopping Arsenal from unleashing a second-half barrage of goals. Conte's switch to a 3-4-3 has worked magnificently since then, recording six consecutive wins without conceding a single goal, which is ludicrous to think when casting our minds back to the Liverpool and Arsenal defeats. The performances have been ruthless, demolishing Manchester United and Everton at Stamford Bridge in emphatic fashion.
With a smoothly functional system, a reinvigorated Eden Hazard - who has already surpassed his total of six league goals from last season - and a Diego Costa who seems more minded to score goals instead of antagonising defenders, Conte's sparkling Chelsea are utterly unrecognisable from the rudderless group of individuals that were turned over in North London.
This impressive metamorphosis is made even more remarkable when considering Conte's position at the start of October. After barely a month of Premier League action, the Italian announced he was returning home for a rest as his players embarked on international duty. It was both peculiar and understandable. Conte was still getting to know west London but he was wearing the marks of a tired mind - which should be unsurprising to most who watch his weekly brand of technical area histrionics - after Italy's Euro 2016 campaign.
Although his time away was brief, Conte returned with a renewed sense of focus and direction, characteristics that have seamlessly poured over into his team's unremittingly intense and efficient performances. Chelsea now face the task of replicating the brilliant frontrunner form that was virtually mastered by Jose Mourinho two seasons ago, when his side finished every month of the season on top of the table, never looking like surrendering their position. Luckily, they have acquired the services of a coach who masterminded Juventus to three Serie A titles in a row before succeeding Cesare Prandelli as the Azzurri boss.
Indeed, the 47-year-old has begun to shape this Chelsea side with his vision. Conte, like his predecessor Mourinho, is a serial winner and a remarkably strong personality who has stamped his authority on this Premier League season more than anyone else. That is not to disregard Liverpool's role in the story of this season. Klopp's Reds are best placed to lead the chasing pack and, considering several of their players still carry the pain of the 2013/14 season with them, will certainly not be minded to crack anytime soon.
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