Antonio Conte tweaks have Chelsea back on form and firing again
It has been to Antonio Conte's detriment this season that the gaze of most Premier League watchers has been fixed on the battle in Manchester, between City and United and Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.
Each has been measured against each other, in terms of performances, results, spending, and even the demeanour of the man in the technical area, and it has meant that Conte has slipped under the radar at Chelsea, just six months after guiding the club to the Premier League title in his first season in English football.
Perhaps it suits the Italian to have others claiming the spotlight. Chelsea is a tough enough club to manage on its own, without the added the pressure of having every decision and result judged by a wider audience, yet for all the positives of being overlooked, Conte deserves acclaim for the way he has quietly put his team back on course after an early season wobble.
A victory at Arsenal on Wednesday will move the champions back above Manchester United and into second place as Manchester City's closest -- though still 11 points away -- challengers at the top of the table.
Nothing less should be expected of a team which ultimately coasted to the title last season, but Chelsea's defence of their crown has not been without problems and the way Conte has navigated his team through its difficult periods bears similarities to the manner of its revival following the 3-0 defeat against Arsenal at the Emirates last season.
Back then, the storm clouds were gathering. Chelsea had already lost at home to Liverpool and the heavy defeat against Arsenal raised doubts over Conte's job security at Stamford Bridge just two months into the season.
But the former Juventus coach reacted by ripping up the tried-and-tested Chelsea back four, reverting to his favoured three-man back line and it transformed the team, sending them on a 13-game winning run in the league which proved the foundation for their title success.
Conte displayed his ruthless and stubborn streak by backing his way last season and he has arguably overcome even greater difficulties this time around to spark another winning run.
Losing Diego Costa last summer left a huge hole in the Chelsea team -- a hole which Conte helped to create with his clumsy handling of the Spain forward -- and the failure to sign first-choice Romelu Lukaku as his replacement did not bode well for the rest of the summer.
Alvaro Morata has since proved a more than adequate alternative to Lukaku, but Conte also saw Nemanja Matic leave Stamford Bridge for United and the Serbian midfielder's replacement, Tiemoue Bakayoko, has not been quite so impressive or convincing.
It led to a slow start to the season, which reached its nadir with back-to-back league defeats against City and Crystal Palace in October, but after being on the wrong end of a 3-0 defeat against Roma in the Champions League on Halloween, Conte rediscovered his ruthless streak by dropping David Luiz and placing his trust in 21-year-old Denmark centre-back Andreas Christensen.
Since ditching the unpredictable Luiz -- the Brazilian has made just one appearance, in the Champions League, since that night in Rome -- Chelsea have been on the march, with 10 wins from 13 league games.
They have lost just once in that run, a 1-0 defeat at West Ham last month, but while City and United have claimed the headlines, Chelsea have moved quietly into form and much of that is down to Conte's management.
He has been outspent by Guardiola and City, just as Mourinho and United have been, but Conte has allowed his team to do the talking rather than reaching for excuses. He has reignited the form of Eden Hazard and found a way to win without a striker, as shown in the 3-1 victory at Huddersfield last month when Hazard played through the middle in place of the injured Morata.
N'Golo Kante has returned to his best and Danny Drinkwater, who has struggled for form and fitness since arriving from Leicester City last August, is now bedding in alongside his old teammate and starting to look like a better option than Bakayoko as Matic's replacement.
Conte has tweaked and fine-tuned his team as this season has progressed and, as a result, Chelsea are looking formidable again.
If they can claim another three points at the Emirates on Wednesday, they will confirm themselves as City's closest challengers and the team most likely to capitalise on any slip by the runaway leaders. There is an awful lot of ground to make up on Guardiola's men, but Chelsea have the pedigree to at least make City look over their shoulder.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_