Antonio Conte admits it has taken time transforming former boss Mourinho’s “ugly duckling” Chelsea side into league leaders.

Antonio Conte took over Chelsea in the summer after the club had disastrously failed in their Premier League title defence.

Former manager Jose Mourinho had left the club four months into the campaign sitting 16th in the table.

Diego Costa and Eden Hazard were both bang out of form, Radamel Falcao had proven a disappointment and interim manager Guus Hiddink was allowed to bring in flop signing Alexandre Pato on loan.

Conte inherited a squad that was not going to play European football this season, with doubts over the futures of many of their top stars.

But eight months later and the Italian has them flying nine points ahead in the Premier League title race.

Conte was given £120million to spend on players – £19m more than what Mourinho was afforded the previous season.

Asked about the transition of the side from mid-table no hopers to league leaders, Conte told Sky Sport Italia: “I have blind faith in what I do.

“We had won the first three games of the season but I didn’t like the performances.

“It was a delicate time, but not dramatic.

“Looking at last season, when Chelsea had practically the same players, you cannot immediately transform the team from an ugly ducking into a swan.

“At the end of the day we found our balance. The blind faith in my ideas helped.

“I made some strong choices.”

Chelsea’s win over Arsenal has given their Premier League title bid a huge boost – and over the course of their next six fixtures they could move into an unassailable position.

The Blues host Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on April 5, but until then, the only top 10 sides they’ll face will be West Ham and Watford.

Although Chelsea do look like inevitable champions, Conte has reiterated his warning that no title is won  until the trophy is handed over.

Conte was a very successful player but he is driven more by the various failures and near-misses of his playing career. He lost three Champions League finals as a player, in 1997, 1998 and 2003. He lost the final of the 1994 World Cup and of Euro 2000 too.

The example that haunts Conte the most is the 1999-2000 Serie A season, when his Juventus team were five points clear with four games left.

But they lost away to Verona and then, on the last day of the season, they lost at Perugia. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Lazio won the title instead.


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