ANTONIO CONTE is on the brink of glory thanks to his thin blue line.
Victory tonight at West Brom will make him a Premier League winner in his first season during which he has ripped up the 21st century coaching rule book.
Squad rotation has been thrown out of the window as the demanding Italian has plumped for the same nucleus of players to put Chelsea within touching distance of the title.
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He has used just 18 starting players in 35 games so far — the fewest since Manchester United won the inaugural Premier League in 1993 by a staggering ten points.
The idea that modern players cannot hack it week in, week out in the down-sized English top flight has been cast aside by this small man with a ruthless attitude to physical fitness.
His message has been simple. Put your body on the line for me and I will deliver the success you crave.
As a result Chelsea have an injury record this season that among other things is the envy of their rivals.
It is no surprise Conte has a fully fit squad for tonight’s trip to the Midlands where a win will see them over the line with two games to spare.
Player of the year N’Golo Kante has made sure he is back from a thigh injury which forced him out of Monday’s win over Middlesbrough in order to join the party at The Hawthorns.
Conte said: “When you work very hard, it’s normal to suffer.
“I’ve never seen a player who, during hard work, doesn’t suffer. I think that when you suffer you become stronger and then you are ready to face every situation, above all problematic situations during games.
“All this season we worked very hard on the physical aspect, and the tactical aspect, to try to avoid this type of situation. To avoid having a lot of injuries.
“Our work is a bit of a secret because we don’t have a lot of injuries. For this reason, I have to say thanks to my staff.
“We create this method after my experience as a footballer and after my experience, in my career, as a manager.
“I found a method with my players, to find the right solution to have a good fit for the whole season.”
The absence of European football has been an obvious factor in keeping the players fresher for longer.
But it is not much of a consolation.
Conte will need a bigger squad next season with Chelsea back in the Champions League but there is still an underlying feeling that the strongest will survive and thrive.
Defender David Luiz is still carrying the hangover of a knee problem from a kick by Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero in December but he refuses to miss out.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois seriously turned an ankle shooting basketball hoops for a commercial deal and missed only one game — and skipper Gary Cahill was the same after being HOSPITALISED with a gallbladder problem.
They all want to be part of what Conte is doing at Chelsea, particularly after the humbling experience of finishing tenth last season and getting through two managers.
The Italian added: “If you ask me, honestly, do you believe you’d fight to win the title in the first season, it’s very difficult to answer this question, because we are building.
“We are building a good foundation for this team — for the club.
“I need a bigger squad next season because we have to play another competition. One more competition.
“But it doesn’t matter because you must find, always, the right time to work.
“Because if someone thinks that we have to play every three days next season and we don’t have to work, then it’s a great mistake. My big achievement was that the players gave me the ability to work. To work hard on the physical and tactical aspects.
“A lot of situations are different if you compare this season to the past.
“When you have this type of change it’s not easy because you must first find ‘men’ and then ‘good players’.
“I must be pleased with this because I found, first, great men in my players, and then really good players.
“We started this season with two wins but honestly I wasn’t calm. I wasn’t calm, ‘tranquilo’.
“I didn’t see what I was wanting to see. I think that I saw my team improving step by step. It was very important, after two defeats to Liverpool and above all against Arsenal.
“After that defeat I understood we had to change something in the tactical aspect and find the right solution, also to improve our work, our tactical work. Then I saw my team improving game by game and increasing confidence — increasing the confidence in their work.
“Now we have to take three points because, otherwise, we’ll have to fight until the end.”