LONDON • Antonio Conte believes that he will take a different Chelsea to face Manchester City on Saturday, one that barely resembles the side that started their last away game at a title rival - the 0-3 loss to Arsenal two months ago - and his conviction is difficult to contradict.
While Chelsea's starting XI at the Etihad is likely to show only three changes from the team that folded at the Emirates, the players' confidence, attitude and performance levels have been transformed in the interim. A remarkable run of seven successive Premier League wins after ending Tottenham's unbeaten start to the season on Saturday attests to that.
The primary reason for this change has been the extraordinary success of Conte's move to a 3-4-2-1 formation, with the system seemingly giving Chelsea the perfect mix of attacking options and defensive resilience.
Even the Blues coach admits to being surprised at how well the switch has worked, although he concedes that Chelsea will face their toughest test yet at City.
Pep Guardiola has shown a similar tactical flexibility in his brief time at City, whether by playing full-backs in midfield or operating without a recognised striker, and is sure to have something up his sleeve to counter Chelsea's system.
"City are a fantastic team and for us, it is a good test," said Conte. "I love this mentality of my players. I saw a great attitude from all of them and I see the will to change things, compared to the past. But now it is important to continue."
The genius of Chelsea's system is that its width and fluidity ensure they create lots of scoring opportunities even when they are not playing well, as was the case for long periods against Spurs at Stamford Bridge.
The Italian also demonstrated even more versatility at half-time, telling his players to be direct to neutralise Tottenham's pressing game and enable them to get their full-backs higher up the pitch.
Conte has been fortunate to an extent in that he rides on a system suited to two attacking players, Pedro and Victor Moses, who had previously looked as if they were surplus to requirements.
"It's not easy for me to make the decision between him (Pedro) and Willian, but I think Pedro is playing very well and deserves to play," said the Blues coach.
Willian's more defensive qualities are likely to be required at City, although having forged a winning team, Conte will be reluctant to change it.
THE TIMES, LONDON