On November 7 2016 Chelsea are second in the table, fresh from beating Everton 5-0 in what must go down as one of the most flawless performances ever seen in the history of the Premier League. And I'm not the only one saying it. Chelsea's last five Premier League matches have yielded the following results, most recent first: 5-0, 2-0, 4-0, 3-0, 2-0.
But things were very different this time last year. Still with Jose Mourinho in charge, on November 7 2015 they were losing 1-0 at Stoke in the league. That was hardly a one-off. The week before they had been beaten 3-1 at home by Liverpool and the week before that they'd lost 2-1 at West Ham. Either side of that West Ham loss were defeats to Stoke in the Capital One Cup on penalties and a 0-0 draw at Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League. So what's changed? The answer can be explained with just two words: Antonio Conte. But how has he done it?
Separating the wheat from the chaff
If at the start of the season you were listing the six most influential Chelsea players on the pitch and in the dressing room they'd probably be: John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa.
As a manager you need to make tough calls and Conte made them. Fabregas was out from the start because he didn't fit into any of Conte's preferred systems. Ivanovic and Terry were given chances to impress but both looked off the pace, error-prone and were dropped. Matic was chosen to boss the midfield and Costa and Hazard were given huge votes of confidence. The latter two look like the world class players that they are: fit, willing, happy, inspired. A far cry from the moaning, mutinous players that went as far as faking injury rather than playing for Mourinho.
Change of system
Conte is a 3-4-2-1 Manager. Three at the back, two wing-backs, two holding midfielders, two wide forwards, one striker. He used the system to great effect at Juventus and more recently for Italy at Euro 2016. But Conte is smart. He knew he couldn't just rock up and start playing a system alien to his players from the off.
So he eased them into it while getting an understanding of who should play where. Cesar Azpilicueta as one of the back three rather than Terry? Victor Moses at wing-back? Strange decisions but boy, have they worked. The last time he employed 4-3-3 was in a 3-0 loss at Arsenal. The first time he played his preferred system they won 2-0 at Hull. Yes, that would be the 2-0 at the start of that remarkable run of five wins...without conceding a single goal.
Raiding the reserves
At the start of the season a better question than "How many games will Victor Moses get this season?" would have been "Where will Chelsea send Moses out on loan to next?" But here we are in November with Moses an integral part of that system in the problematic right wing-back position that none of Ivanovic, Azpilicueta nor Willian were quite right for. Conte has seen certain qualities in Moses and given him a chance that none of Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benitez, Mourinho or Guus Hiddink ever did.
It's a similar story with Pedro. Even at the start of the season he had few chances but since being given a game against Leicester, in the right forward position where his pace and directness is invaluable, he's been a revelation.
Attitude and positivity
The whispers coming out of Stamford Bridge are that Conte is a perfectionist and a hard taskmaster. But hey, so are Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, to name but two. The crucial thing though, is that he's a positive man and that positivity spreads to players, fans, the football club as a whole.
When he dropped Fabregas there were no hard feelings, no bad blood. It was a tactical decision, nothing else. When others were favoured to Terry, it was a similar story. "It's just business, JT. Nothing personal." And there's a human side to Conte. Witness how he gave Terry a five minute run out in the Everton game. Not the norm, bringing a centre-back on when you're 5-0 up. But he did it to send Terry the message that he's still part of all of this. A far cry from the methods of Mourinho, publicly humiliating staff, players and anyone else he perceives as responsible from preventing him from winning.
All of this explains why having been as big as 32.031/1, earlier in the season to win the league, Chelsea are now just 4.03/1 with only Liverpool at 3.953/1 and Man City shorter (3.412/5) shorter. But here's the thing. Liverpool can't be scoring four and five every week to win matches and a clean sheet is a rare thing for City these days. When the business end of the season comes, 1-0 wins will be like gold dust. And I know which of those three teams I fancy to get more of them.