'I didn't think Chelsea players would buy into Antonio Conte's philosophy so quickly' - Gianfranco Zola
Chelsea's squad quickly buying into the philosophy of new manager Antonio Conte was key to his instant impact at Stamford Bridge, according to former Blues midfielder Gianfranco Zola.
Conte took charge of Chelsea this summer following a two-year spell with the Italian national team, reaching the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.
Having previously guided Juventus to three consecutive Serie A titles, the 47-year-old looks determined to swiftly add a first English championship to his impressive CV with Chelsea a point clear at the top of Premier League heading into the weekend's fixtures.
Zola arrived from Parma in November 1996 and went on to play more than 300 times for Chelsea, scoring 80 goals and winning the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup as well as the FA Cup twice.
The Italian feels Conte's hard work on the training ground is borne out by the team's rapid progress.
Zola, who was speaking at the official unveiling of William Hill's Chelsea shop on Fulham Broadway, said to Press Association Sport: "They are doing very well, are on a good streak and look solid, so it is a positive moment for the club.
"When the results are on your side, the atmosphere is very easy to be good, but I think the important thing is all of the work which they have put in place.
"Everything happening is the result of some very good hard work, everything is coming together.
"Antonio has done exceptionally well. He is creating an atmosphere and a good basis to keep this form for a long time.
"I am pleased because they play well and are winning games deservedly."
Zola added: "I had no doubts about the value of Antonio because I know his qualities. My only question was whether the players would buy his philosophy straight away because he can be a very intense and hard-working coach.
"It seems to me that they are fine with that, which is why the results are coming in so quickly. It is not by co-incidence either, it is the result of (doing) a very good job."
With Liverpool and Manchester City just a point behind Chelsea, and Arsenal and Tottenham both within striking distance of the top, Zola believes the Premier League title race will be set for an exciting conclusion.
"It is going to be tight - but if you remember a few weeks ago, everyone was saying Manchester City had already won the league, then Tottenham beat them and also Arsenal beat Chelsea," Zola said.
"With what the league is like now, it is very uncertain and there are five or even six teams who could win it and the team of the moment will be changed.
"It seems to me, though, that three teams look like they have the consistency that might be necessary to win the league - this could be Chelsea, could be Liverpool or Manchester City.
"It looks like they (Chelsea) are more reliable now for a longer run, but we will see because you also have Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United too who can all come back."
At the other end of the table, another of Zola's former clubs, West Ham, are struggling for consistency following their move to the London Stadium from Upton Park.
The Italian, though, believes the Hammers can mount a recovery.
"It is strange, because it is a good team and Slaven Bilic has done very well," said Zola, who left his job as West Ham manager in May 2010.
"I think the team has been reinforced from last year, so I am surprised to see them not doing as well, but it is a team which has values and I am sure it will come back stronger."
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