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If, as widely expected, Chelsea go on to lift the Premier League trophy, one game in their title-winning campaign will surely be remembered as the most significant for manager Antonio Conte.

Forget the 4-0 rout of Manchester United in October when returning manager Jose Mourinho was humiliated. Or the 5-0 victory over Everton in November when everything went right and Eden Hazard briefly resembled Lionel Messi. Or even the come-from-behind win at Manchester City the following month that firmly installed the team as title favorite.

The defining 90 minutes of Chelsea’s season will likely be a loss that led to some serious soul-searching and, critically, a change in formation.

A 3-0 loss at Arsenal on Sept. 24 bewildered Conte. He saw his team playing as individuals, with the wrong attitude, the wrong balance and with no identity. The only good thing to come out of that ill-fated trip to Emirates Stadium was a second-half switch to a 3-4-3 formation, which finally put Conte’s imprint on his new side and was there to stay.

From a low ebb — eighth in the standings, to be precise — Chelsea haven’t looked back. Fifteen wins from 17 matches later, Chelsea host Arsenal for their return game today with a nine-point lead and with most observers saying the title has been wrapped up.

“I think,” Conte said, “this could be a good chance for us to show that, now, we are a totally different team.”

His view was reinforced by Victor Moses, who has since that defeat to Arsenal, been converted to a wing-back and is dreaming of a redemption in today’s game.

“Even though we are on top, we need to win the match and redeem ourselves from that defeat, which hurt us so much”, said the Nigerian winger.

That’s already been proven. David Luiz looks like a different player with more freedom as a libero in a back three. Unheralded pair Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses have excelled as wingbacks, central midfielder N’Golo Kante is possibly the most influential player in the league, while forwards Hazard and Pedro Rodriguez have been outstanding without having so much defensive responsibility as part of a front three with top-scorer Diego Costa.

The team  are more street-wise and organized, as shown in the 1-1 draw at Liverpool on Tuesday when Chelsea absorbed lots of early pressure from the home side before growing into the game and being a late penalty miss from Costa away from winning.

 

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