In Depth

How Antonio Conte became Chelsea's new 'Special One'

A year after sacking Jose Mourinho, the Blues are six points clear in the League and the signs are good as they chase the title

This time last year, Chelsea were one point above the relegation zone and preparing to sack Jose Mourinho after a 2-1 defeat to Leicester City.

Fast-forward 12 months and they're riding high, sitting six points clear at the top of the Premier League under new manager Antonio Conte.

And with his side on a run of ten straight wins and guaranteed to still be top of the table on Christmas Day, it's no wonder he has been hailed the new "Special One" at Stamford Bridge.

According to Sam Cunningham of the Daily Mail, there are similarities between Conte's reign and Mourinho's first spell with Chelsea.

Two things are particularly noticeable: the way Conte has got the best out of stars such as Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, who were badly off colour last season, and his new three-at-the-back system that has served the Blues so well since he adopted it in the autumn.

"Pundits far and wide have been lavishing praise on the Italian's 3-4-3 formation," says Cunningham. "Much like when Mourinho arrived on these shores with a system that others struggled to deal with, Conte is implementing this unorthodox formation to great success. 

"It is a structure that he stuck stringently to while at Juventus and though he wavered in the early, less fortuitous months at Stamford Bridge, since reverting to what he knows best Chelsea have clambered to the top of the table."

Conte has a "firm but fair" approach with the players and it works. "He has continually stressed to Diego Costa that while his aggressive mentality is fine, he needs to channel it more towards playing the game and not picking up bookings. The striker has responded with some of his best form since joining the club."

There are other factors. "If Chelsea's fluctuation from heroes to zeroes and back again tells us anything, it is the importance of those intangibles known as attitude, spirit, confidence and mentality," says Oliver Kay in The Times. "Chelsea had it, lost it and, under Conte's fiercely intense yet thoughtful management, have indisputably got it back again."

The Blues are once again playing with "fearsome intensity and steely focus", he adds, singling out the influence of N'Golo Kante in midfield.

"The challenge for Chelsea now is to keep demonstrating that they are as good as Conte - and Kante - has made them look."

The signs are promising, says Louise Taylor of The Guardian. "Significantly Conte has competition for places in key positions with Cesc Fabregas putting pressure on Nemanja Matic by shining at Sunderland and proving he can both thrive and be trusted in a 3-4-3 formation after all," she says.

"It also helps that Chelsea do not have the mental and physical distraction of European involvement. And they know how to pace themselves and how to slow games right down before returning to high-intensity mode. There is possibly less danger of burning out than with Jurgen Klopp's full-on Liverpool."

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