Big fortnight in store for Chelsea
Conte's Blues rise to the top, but the next two league tests will show their true worth
(Diego Costa 41)
No one will fault Antonio Conte if he enjoyed his best Italian bottle of wine after Chelsea's return to the top of the English Premier League, after his side's 1-0 victory away to Middlesbrough yesterday morning (Singapore time).
A sixth successive league victory and clean sheet on the trot saw the Blues rebound spectacularly after a disastrous September, when they failed to win a single game in the Premiership in three attempts.
But an inspired decision by Conte to convert his defence into a three-man backline has stopped the rot.
And with Diego Costa firing on all cylinders, the dream of an unexpected EPL title triumph in Conte's first season in charge of Chelsea has been reignited.
Costa's winner against Middlesbrough was his 10th Premier League goal and saw the Spaniard, hailed by Conte as "one of the best strikers in the world", surge to the top of the scorers' chart.
"I want to wait until the second half of the season," Conte said of Chelsea's title prospects, refusing to get carried away by their momentum and mindful of the tight race shaping up.
Only five points separate the leaders and fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur at about the one-third mark of the season.
While there are some formidable challengers in the mix, it is Liverpool who look potentially Chelsea's biggest threat.
Like Chelsea, Juergen Klopp's Reds, who are breathing down their necks in second spot, have a crucial advantage over rivals Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs.
When the trio of clubs toil away in their European fixtures in midweek, Chelsea and Liverpool will be preparing for their weekend Premier League battles well in advance.
After a tough start to the season, Liverpool will enjoy a relatively straightforward run of matches - Sunderland (home), Bournemouth (away), West Ham (home) and Middlesbrough (away) - over the next few weeks and it is not far-fetched to expect them to pick up 12 points during that stretch.
Chelsea, though, face a challenging fortnight that could define their season.
At Stamford Bridge on Sunday morning, Spurs will be attempting to pour cold water on the Blues' red-hot streak.
Mauricio Pochettino's side are in fine fettle, the only Premier League side yet to taste defeat.
Their comeback win over West Ham last weekend demonstrated the confidence that is running through their veins.
Twice, West Ham went ahead during the game, only to eventually lose 3-2, with Spurs equalising through Harry Kane a minute from time.
Kane, who only just returned from injury, struck the winner in time added-on for a result that will add even more belief in his side.
SCORE TO SETTLE
Spurs have a score to settle.
In May, they squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with the Blues, a result which saw them drop two valuable points that extinguished their own title chances.
After taking on Spurs, Chelsea will then go head to head with, arguably, even more formidable opponents.
Conte will cross swords with Pep Guardiola on Dec 3 at the Etihad Stadium, which is where the bookmakers continue to think is the likeliest destination of this season's EPL crown.
Manchester City, who are behind Liverpool only on goal difference, have more than enough firepower to test Chelsea's much-vaunted three-man backline.
In Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Raheem Sterling, and the back-in-favour Yaya Toure, City pack a mighty punch up front.
Chelsea lost to Liverpool at home and were thumped by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
Meetings with the two other title contenders are scheduled over the next two weeks, and how they emerge after it will determine whether Chelsea are the real deal.