Buxton: League Cup is probably Chelsea's best chance of silverware
Conte cannot afford to let spat with Mourinho distract his League Cup mission
Antonio Conte is already paying the price for allowing Jose Mourinho to get inside his head.
Everything his predecessor in the Chelsea hot seat did, the Italian is now imitating. Ending his Stamford Bridge tenure without any tangible success would bring the parallels full circle.
All hopes the English Premier League had for its reigning champions to take the fight to Pep Guardiola's runaway side have disintegrated in the crossfire of Conte's feud with Mourinho.
Where the League Cup once represented a springboard on which they excelled towards greater silverware, it now represents the Blues' best chance of silverware this season.
Arsenal stand in their way in tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) semi-final first leg.
It is a mission which may still not reap the rewards for Conte, with Manchester City invariably set to provide the opposition should the Citizens overcome Bristol City to reach another Wembley showpiece.
He would do well to cast a glance across the Stamford Bridge touchline tomorrow to see exactly what happens to those who previously tried, and failed, to get the better of Mourinho.
Arsene Wenger took on the current Manchester United manager at a time when Arsenal were admired and held up as the gold standard for the English top flight.
Almost a decade on from their spat, the veteran Frenchman is sifting through the remnants of his Gunners' legacy.
Winning the FA Cup in three of the previous four seasons failed to prepare Wenger for the self-inflicted ignominy of a third-round exit at Nottingham Forest on Sunday.
Chelsea could also be made to pay for fielding, by their well-heeled standards, a weakened side against Norwich City, against whom they meet in an FA Cup third-round replay next week, following a 0-0 draw in Sunday's first encounter.
Even then, Conte could not resist intensifying a long-running war of words with Mourinho; an obsession not too dissimilar to the man who continues to cast a shadow over the Londoners.
The Portuguese's final months at Stamford Bridge found him unable to see the wood for the trees and he remains hell-bent on sending the man who replaced him down that same path.
Already juggling a tough campaign on multiple fronts, a replay with Norwich, sandwiched between EPL fixtures against Leicester City and Brighton, means the Blues must play four games over the next 10 days.
Ultimately, the exertions will catch up on his side; not least in next month's Champions League Round of 16 against Barcelona.
A repeat of their 2011/12 semi-final triumph over the Catalan giants appears highly unlikely, with Ernesto Valverde's side in indomitable form this term.
Conte could at least cling to the prospect of an afternoon beneath Wembley's arch at the end of February, in the League Cup final, should the inevitable occur when battling with Lionel Messi and Co.
It may prove the only crumb of comfort left if he continues to allow Mourinho to chip away at the facade of one of Europe's most tactically astute managers in recent times.
Chelsea have already been forced to write off one season due to their former manager's public outpourings of petulance and name-calling, but Conte appears happy to allow the United boss to claim him as a second scalp alongside his own.
Winning the League Cup could provide the former Italy coach and his side with their only trophy this season, as well as a much-needed handbrake moment to ward off Mourinho's bad habits.