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Eye On EPL

New formation basis of Chelsea's winning streak

To describe Chelsea's transformation under Antonio Conte as remarkable seems like a gross understatement.

The Blues are top of the English Premier League, courtesy of a six-match winning run - scoring a staggering 17 goals and conceding none in the process - and they look the most complete team in the top flight.

Exactly a year ago, they had 14 points (half their tally for this season) and stuttered to a miserable defence of their title, finishing the season in 10th spot.

There are several factors at play. Stars like Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, who combined for just 16 goals last term but have already scored 17 between them this term, have regained their mojo, after falling out with former boss Jose Mourinho last season.

Lack of involvement in elite European competitions such as the Champions League has also allowed the Blues to focus on domestic matters without major injuries and disruptions to a settled line-up.

Lack of involvement in elite European competitions such as the Champions League has also allowed the Blues to focus on domestic matters without major injuries and disruptions.

Chelsea have used 16 players in their starting XIs, the fewest of the top seven teams.

And of course, there is Conte, who is showing us why he is every bit as tactically astute as his predecessor, Jose "The Special One" Mourinho.

His 3-4-3 formation has given Chelsea balance in both defence and attack - the club are second in goals scored and conceded - and has befuddled opposing coaches since Conte switched to the formation after back-to-back losses to Liverpool and Arsenal last month.

Pundits are calling it a master stroke but that is the hallmark of a top coach, one willing to take calculated risks to achieve his vision.

Conte previously used this formation with Juventus - where he won a hat-trick of Italian league championships - and with his national team, but it was still a gamble to implement it at Chelsea.

This, after all, is only the Italian's fourth month in English football and he inherited a dressing room low on morale and motivation.

Yet Conte, a livewire on the touchline, has quickly earned the trust of his players and they have responded positively.

Look at Cesar Azpilicueta, who has been deployed by Conte as part of his three-man backline. The Spaniard is a natural right-back but has been outstanding in his new position.

That takes guts and faith from Conte. He has watched Azpilicueta in training, knows what he is capable of and has given him the tools and opportunity to flourish.

The same goes for Victor Moses, a former winger who has been a revelation in the wing-back position.

Conte's authority also appears absolute. Big names like Cesc Fabregas, Willian and Branislav Ivanovic have been relegated to the bench but there are no reports of unrest.

In just a short period, Conte has moulded a team spirit suited to a championship assault.

It is November and there is still two-thirds of the season left, so it would be premature to say that come May, the EPL trophy will have blue tassels on it.

But there is a clear sense of confidence in Chelsea's ranks. As a player, that's an unbelievable edge. You can't wait for the next game because you believe you will win every time.

It would take something remarkable to change that psyche.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'New formation basis of Chelsea's winning streak'. Print Edition | Subscribe