Antonio Conte admits that Chelsea's stunning form in the Premier League has caught him by surprise.
A hard-fought 1-0 victory over West Brom at the weekend made it nine top-flight wins in a row – a run that has given them a three-point lead at the top of the table.
And although Conte believes his side were too quickly written off in the early part of the season, he concedes that their exceptional recent displays have come as a shock.
Asked if he expected Chelsea to have maintained such a strong run, he replied: "If I must be honest, no. Not because I don't trust in my team, but because I know this league, it's very tough.
"To have nine wins in a row is fantastic, I hope to continue this, but if you ask me if I hoped for this, then yes. But I didn't expect it.
"The opinion changes very quickly and I don't like this. You must have balance when you judge the situation. Four, five months ago, not one person made Chelsea favourites to fight for the title or a place in the Champions League.
"We are working to change the situation, but we're the same as we were at the start of the season, the same players, the same manager. But I'm pleased our work is starting to pay off."
Conte warned his players not to allow their focus to drop ahead of Wednesday's meeting with bottom club Sunderland, however.
"We all know that Sunderland are at the bottom of the table, but if you look at the last five games they are fifth in the table," he said, pointing to Sunderland's run of three wins in their last five.
"It's important to pay attention, to be focused, concentrated from the start of the game until the end.
"I think we're ready to face a lot of games in a few days. We've worked very hard to face this Christmas period and now it's important to start it in the right way."
Monday saw Cristiano Ronaldo win the Ballon d'Or for the fourth time in his career, with Barcelona's Lionel Messi in second place.
Conte believes the Real Madrid star was a worthy winner, but hopes that a Chelsea player can lift the trophy in the coming seasons.
"I think he deserved this," he said. "Cristiano and Messi are dividing these awards. For sure, in the future it will be another player to replace these two great champions.
"I hope so. We have fantastic players and I hope this can happen in the future."