Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois insists that Jose Mourinho was not solely to blame for Chelsea's dismal form last season.
Mourinho, who guided Chelsea to the Premier League title and the EFL Cup in 2014-15, departed in December after they won just four of their opening 16 games in the top flight.
Guus Hiddink took temporary charge but was unable to reverse their fortunes, with the London club ultimately finishing 10th in the table, with no trophies to their name.
Under Antonio Conte, however, Chelsea have re-emerged as title contenders, winning five league games in a row without conceding a goal.
But Courtois maintains the players were as culpable as Mourinho for last season's slump, even though a change in manager has ultimately galvanised their fortunes.
"He gave me a chance to play at Chelsea, he's a top manager," the Belgium international told the Daily Mail. "Sometimes it's not only the manager [at fault], but he's the first one that people look at.
"You see it everywhere in football, when results are not there then the first guy who has to go is the manager. It's not always the managers; sometimes it's also the players who we have to blame.
"I don't think we as a team last year were on the same level as the year we were champions.
"It is not only about the manager, but obviously the club has to make a decision at one point and they decided to let him go.
"We decided to play and finish the season as well as we could but we were 10th. That's obviously very bad for Chelsea."
Courtois says Chelsea's form gives them genuine hope of a title challenge, though he is wary of complacency creeping into the dressing room.
"He's passionate and convincing in his words and that helps obviously if you're a manager," Courtois said of Conte. "After these last five games, I think you would say we are there. But we have to go step by step.
"Last season we had some difficult games in September which we lost. So we have to go step by step and we will see where we end. We face some good opponents.
"Middlesbrough is a hard team to beat and then Tottenham and Manchester City, so these are important weeks for us."
Courtois feels Eden Hazard's resurgence is also down to Conte, with his compatriot having been named the Premier League's player of the month after a string of superb displays in Chelsea's 3-4-3 system.
"He's playing very well and obviously he has more freedom in attacking situations," Courtois said. "Sometimes when we recovered the ball last season he had to come from the back and now he's already higher up the pitch.
"So his actions can lead more to goals and assists and that's maybe the biggest change."