Antonio Conte believes Chelsea’s amazing winning run owes much to the way defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal “changed something” in him and his players.
Saturday’s 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace was the Blues’ 11th straight in the Premier League, equalled a club record set by the team that won the 2010 title and helped them finish the weekend seven points clear at the summit.
Much has been made of the transformation in their results since Conte adopted the increasingly popular 3-4-3 formation, but, rather than the change in shape, the manager believes their surge to top spot was inspired by a change of attitude throughout the club.
“After the defeat against Liverpool, and also against Arsenal, it changed something in me, in the players, in the club,” the Italian said. “We understood the way to go and have a different season, compared to last season.
“It was different. For this reason, we found the right solution, formation, but also to improve the quality of the work in all aspects. After these two bad games, we changed a lot.
“I like to win, and to see my teams have two bad defeats – we deserved two bad defeats – I didn’t like this and I tried to find the right solution on the pitch, outside of the pitch. We found the right solution with the players, to explain that we all deserve better than last season.
“Usually when I don’t win it’s very difficult to sleep, but now I’m sleeping the right (amount). After 11 wins, we have a positive pressure that we want to continue. The day that you don’t win, you finish this run.”
Chelsea in September lost twice in three games – 2-1 at home to Liverpool and 3-0 at Arsenal – before Conte changed his team’s formation, and, despite long favouring a back three, he admitted he had harboured concerns about the ability of his players to succeed in such a system.
“Before the game against Liverpool, I understood our formation wasn’t good to face Liverpool, tactically, and we paid for this,” he said.
“Also, against Arsenal, I said to change, because now we are playing with three central defenders.
“In the history of Chelsea, this never happened, no? To change it totally, this situation, is not easy – you must go slowly, slowly, and to put the idea (across).
“In my mind, and also before the games against Liverpool, there was the will to change, but I waited until the right moment.
“You always hope not to make great changes to the team. I have players that had only played with four (in defence).”
Saturday’s result left Palace with a record of eight defeats from their past 10, and their manager Alan Pardew – whose team impressed despite their latest loss – spoke of his plans to recruit a new left-back in January with Pape Souare unlikely to return to fitness this term.
“A left-back would sort a few things out for us,” the 55-year-old said. “We’ve found ourselves short in that position and it has affected us, and we need to get that right.
“We’ve had a few conversations. (But) it’s difficult to get anyone in this window.”