Robert Di Matteo is on the brink of the sack with Rafael Benitez in line to take over Chelsea on a temporary basis, according to widespread media reports.
The Blues face an uphill task to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League after a 3-0 defeat to Juventus in Turin on Wednesday.
Di Matteo was given the job on a permanent basis in the summer after leading Chelsea to an unexpected first Champions League triumph.
But the patience of owner Roman Abramovich was worn thin, and he is reportedly willing to offer Spaniard Benitez – who has been out of work since leaving Internazionale in 2010 – a deal until the end of the season. Benitez won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005 and reached the final in 2007.
Abramovich wants to install former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola as permanent boss when his year-long sabbatical comes to an end in the summer, and Benitez would appear to be the perfect stop-gap.
Di Matteo hinted after the loss to Juve that any questions over his future should be put to Abramovich, not him.
“At the moment, I think, with the team, we are all in it together,” he said. “I’m responsible for the results and at the moment I am here and I think I will be for the future.
“But that question [about my future] is probably not one you should ask me. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll keep working. But I’m responsible for the result. I’m responsible for the performance.
“It’s a negative evening for us – a big disappointment for us, for the team, for the club. If anyone has to take the blame, it’s me. I selected a team I was convinced was the right team to win against Juventus, or get at least a draw, so the blame belongs to me.”
Di Matteo has overseen a change in playing style this season, with three attacking midfielders – usually summer signings Eden Hazard and Oscar, plus Spain star Juan Mata – employed behind a striker.
However the Italian, a former playing star at Stamford Bridge, left out £50 million striker Fernando Torres on Tuesday, effectively playing without a front man – a bold move that backfired.
Abramovich has a trigger-happy reputation. He sacked Avram Grant after the Israeli led Chelsea to the 2008 Champions League final then disposed of his replacement Luiz Felipe Scolari after less than a season in charge following public criticism from the players.
Guus Hiddink came in on a temporary basis – alongside his duties as Russia coach – and won the Double before returning to his national job full-time.
Carlo Ancelotti was the oligarch’s next victim before Andre Villas-Boas – who had enjoyed a sensational debut season with Porto, romping to the league title and winning the Portuguese Cup and Europa League – came in to instigate the change to the younger, more fluent style that Abramovich craved.
However he lasted only nine months before the axe fell – and Di Matteo steadied the ship, taking Chelsea to that famous European triumph in Munich against Bayern.