Last December, when the much-adored Jose Mourinho was sacked with Chelsea sitting perilously close to the relegation zone, Blues supporters turned on their own.
In the following game against Sunderland, three players were singled out for criticism, with one banner on show at Stamford Bridge proclaiming: “The Three Rats – Hazard, Cesc and Costa”.
Fast forward to this week, and the situation could not be more different.
Mourinho is now mocked, especially after his Manchester United side were thrashed 4-0 last month. “You’re not Special anymore,” jeered his once loyal disciples.
The chants ringing round Stamford Bridge after Chelsea’s merciless demolition of Everton were for the new manager.
“Antonio, Antonio,” sang the supporters, and Conte duly acknowledged them by applauding all four sides of the ground.
No wonder. Chelsea’s win was their fifth league victory in succession, with 16 goals scored and none conceded.
It took them to the top of the Premier League, however temporarily, and showed that the squad that laboured through last season, even after Mourinho’s demise, can play thrilling and successful football.
And no-one is playing better than Hazard, who demonstrated why Conte believes he is the “complete player” who can reach the heights of the best in the world.
Hazard’s name rang round Stamford Bridge, as did the chant of “Diego, Diego”, confirming how those two have been forgiven fully for the events of last season.
Hazard scored twice and Costa hit his ninth goal in 11 league games this season as Chelsea blew away the Blues from Merseyside, who contributed to their own downfall with an abysmal display.
Hazard opened the scoring in the 19th minute and then created the second for Marcos Alonso a minute later. Costa made it 3-0 before half time, and Hazard scored a superb second goal before before setting up Pedro to complete the scoring in the 65th minute.
Chelsea hit the woodwork twice before Hazard was substituted to a standing ovation in the closing stages.
“We are in good form, we are top of the league and we want to stay like this,” he said afterwards.
“We’re enjoying our football now. We played well, created a lot of chances and haven’t conceded a goal for five league games.”
It is a far cry from the woes of last season. Having started pre-season preparations late, the reigning champions made a terrible start and Hazard, who’d been voted Footballer of the Year in 2015, was never far from the firing line.
It was his injury in the opening game that led to Mourinho’s controversial and damaging criticism of club doctor Eva Carneiro, and the player struggled to play with a persistent hip injury.
By the time he was given a six-week rest, after Chelsea’s Champions League exit in March, he had not scored a single league goal. When he returned in April, he scored three in four games, including the equaliser against Tottenham that confirmed Leicester City as champions.
This season he has hit the ground running, with seven league goals so far, including five in his past four games. He has been working with a fitness coach to improve his body strength.
With Marcos Alonso as left wing-back in a 3-4-3 formation, Hazard has a licence to kill opposing defences.
“Last season was difficult for me, but I’m trying to be the same player that I was two years ago,” he added. “I try to play like when I was a kid. I’m enjoying playing now. My position is a little bit different than before — I go more inside and have more freedom.
“I don’t need to defend the right-back because Alonso is there. I just focus on staying in my position and when I have the ball I can go where I want and be decisive.”
He admits he is fitter and happier than last season. “I don’t try to find excuses but I wasn’t at the top level, both physically and on the pitch. I’ve won a lot of individual trophies and maybe last season I was a little bit tired, mentally, physically.”
Conte started the season with four at the back and won his first three games, albeit unconvincingly. It was after defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal that he changed to his favoured formation.
“I was worried because we were conceding a lot of goals and letting teams have a lot of chances.
“I wanted to start the season with 4-2-4 because we have strong wingers and I like to play with two strikers very close together. But I changed it because it gave us more balance defensively and offensively.”
The main loser has been Fabregas, who was hauled off at Arsenal as the new formation — and new era —began. The Spanish midfielder may look to leave in January, with AC Milan interested.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman was angry his team gave up so easily. “It is difficult to play against this system with the movement of players like Hazard. The manager has brought a winning mentality and the players look hungry.
“They keep that they will be contenders for the title. It was only three points we lost but it was not our level and we have to show we’re better than that.”
Courtois 7; Azpilicueta 7, Luiz 8, Cahill 7 (Terry 84); Moses 7, Kante 8, Matic 8, Alonso 8; Pedro 8 (Oscar 71), Costa 7, Hazard 10 (Batshuayi 80).
Stekelenburg 4; Williams 4, Jagielka 5, Funes Mori 4; Coleman 6, Cleverly 4, Barry 4 (Davies 66), Barkley 5, Oviedo 5 (Mirallas 36); Bolasie 6 (Lennon 59), Lukaku 3.