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Chelsea back on top thanks to Conte

Press Association logoPress Association 12/05/2017 Matt McGeehan

Second choice? Second place? Not for Antonio Conte. He hit the ground running at Chelsea and delivered.

The 47-year-old Italian may have been behind Pep Guardiola as the manager most coveted by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

But he has delivered an English Premier League title in his first season as Chelsea boss and the double could follow with victory over Arsenal in the FA Cup final on May 27.

Not even Jose Mourinho, Chelsea's most successful manager, won both of those trophies in the same campaign.

Carlo Ancelotti, a long-time friend of Conte's, did in 2009-10.

Mourinho, now boss of Manchester United, might point to the fact Chelsea have not been in European action and that Conte's success came with his team.

The Portuguese was also responsible for the lack of continental competition, despite his recent protestations that a Chelsea side in free fall domestically were still in contention to win the Champions League.

Conte revived a Chelsea team which had become dysfunctional just months after Mourinho's third Premier League title.

The former Juventus and Italy boss, who opted for the title 'head coach' over 'manager', saw the potential and harnessed it through his favourite word: work.

With impressive English at his public unveiling - his determination to speak and learn the language testament to his own work ethic and desire to impress - Conte outlined his intention last July.

"I hope there is a small flame flickering that can eventually grow into a blazing inferno," he said.

Mourinho might have fanned the flames and the blaze would have grown so big it would no longer be in his control; Conte nurtured his fire in a different way.

With unity, functionality and a devastating ruthlessness, Conte dealt with matters like his team did on the field.

Even the potentially explosive moments were dealt with expertly, perhaps with the exception of the persistent rumours of Inter Milan's interest in him.

Until now he has focused on the present, but the questions surrounding his future need to be answered.

John Terry's departure after 22 years at Chelsea, the vast majority as captain, has been respectful and courteous. It had to happen some time.

The conduct of striker Diego Costa threatened to derail Chelsea's title bid in January when, after a hot streak in front of goal, he missed the trip to Leicester after reportedly having his head turned by a lucrative offer from the Chinese Super League.

That was quickly extinguished by Conte, who refused to comment publicly on the matter but may now decide to cash in on a striker whose goal return has fallen since.

Chelsea were revived quickly. The September losses to Liverpool and at Arsenal prompted Conte to switch to a 3-4-3 formation and 13 successive league wins followed. He rarely tinkered with his personnel.

The next loss came at Tottenham in January, but Chelsea responded again.

He regularly pointed to his experience as a player at the highest level - pointedly something Mourinho did not have - and cautioned against premature celebrations even when Chelsea's lead was in double figures.

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