Conte renews his rivalry with Jurgen Klopp tonight giving thanks for the reality check that inspired his revamp having opened the season with three wins and a draw.
Dejan Lovren and Jordan Henderson put Liverpool 2-0 ahead at half-time that Friday evening in September before Diego Costa replied.
And it got worse before it got better as Conte’s men lost their next league match, 3-0 at Arsenal.
Conte changed the formation to the 3-4-3 he had favoured with Italy and Juventus and they reeled off 13 wins in succession before losing at Tottenham on January 4. They are now eight points ahead of second-placed Arsenal – their visitors at Stamford Bridge this weekend – and 10 in front of Liverpool, who lie fourth.
Antonio Conte believes his team have grown a lot since losing to Liverpool
Liverpool lost 2-1 to Chelsea earlier in the season
“Honestly, we are a different team,” Conte said yesterday. “We grew a lot.
“If you think about the first game, I said we’d faced a really great team in Liverpool, but that day we weren’t a team. Only through work could we improve to become a team.
“It happened, because after the games against Liverpool and Arsenal, we improved a lot in our performances and our identity and our confidence. For this reason, now we are top of the table.
“It’s incredible, because it’s not easy to have two defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal and find the strength to arrive on top of the table with 13 wins in a row. But it happened, and I’m pleased for my players because they deserved this.”
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Becoming a team involved working together on and off the pitch. “After the second defeat, something changed in our minds, in our way to think, a new type of football and a new idea, to find the right solution, to adapt better – me with the players and the players with me,” said Conte.
“After two defeats, we understood the way [we had been playing] wasn’t good for us. And if we wanted not to repeat a bad season, for sure we had to change something. And it happened.
“It’s important to understand that there are moments where the team is very, very important. If you play for the team, the team benefits from your talent.
“This link is very important to become a team, to understand that if you play for the team, the team then exalts your talent.
“I’m pleased above all for my players. They showed me this will to change and to find a new solution, to change our season and try to fight until the end for a place in the Champions League, to try to win the title.”
With Chelsea already so far in front of the pack, it is tempting to think that defeat for Liverpool tonight would be a mortal blow for the Reds’ own title hopes, but Conte disagrees.
“For sure it would be a hard hit, mentally, for them,” he said. “But there are 15 games after this, and 45 points available before the season finishes. The result is important, but the result doesn’t decide the season of Chelsea or Liverpool.”
Conte will be making his first visit to Anfield but will have no time for sightseeing.
“It’s the first time for me as a manager, also I never played there as a footballer, so I’m excited about this for sure,” he said.
“But I’m totally involved in the game. My focus, my concentration, is on the game and not to enjoy this moment. It’s a pity.”