Maurizio Sarri is set to continue as Chelsea head coach, for now, but forthcoming fixtures could determine his fate.
Owner Roman Abramovich is not renowned for his patience and the humiliating losses to Bournemouth and Manchester City, followed by the reaction of the fans during Monday’s FA Cup exit to Manchester United, could result in Sarri’s departure.
Press Association Sport claims that Chelsea are preparing with Sarri for Thursday’s Europa League last-32 second leg against Malmo – they hold a 2-1 first-leg advantage – with Sunday’s Carabao Cup final clash versus City following.
Chelsea beat Pep Guardiola’s side 2-0 in December and Sarri maintains, despite the 6-0 reverse at the Etihad Stadium on February 10, his side can earn the first trophy of his career.
Then follows a derby with arch-rivals Tottenham on February 27, where defeat would see Chelsea lose further ground in the bid for Champions League qualification through the Premier League. The Blues are sixth, behind Arsenal on goals scored.
Historically, as Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas Boas will attest, it was when their top-four hopes were floundering that Chelsea made a change in the dugout.
Already under pressure following the 6-0 City loss, which was Chelsea’s biggest defeat in 28 years – swiftly following the 4-0 defeat at Bournemouth, the worst in 22 years – Sarri was left in no doubt at the strength of the fans’ feelings towards him.
Chelsea supporters joined in as United fans sang “You’re getting sacked in the morning”, before home fans chanted “f*** Sarri-ball” and sang about Frank Lampard.
Not since Rafael Benitez was interim boss has the unhappiness with a Chelsea manager been voiced so vociferously by the Blues fans, and that was due to the Spaniard’s history with Liverpool.
One saving grace for Sarri may be that Abramovich was not there to hear the dissent for himself.
Following his visa tribulations last summer, the Russian billionaire has not been seen at a Chelsea game this season.
Derby boss Lampard is Chelsea’s record goalscorer and a possible successor, but whether he would move at this stage of the season is uncertain, with the greater likelihood that Chelsea would appoint an interim boss as they have done previously with Guus Hiddink, in 2010 and 2016, and Benitez, in 2013.
The Blues privately insist Gianfranco Zola, Sarri’s assistant, will not be in caretaker charge for the rest of the season.
However, if Sarri goes, necessity may dictate the former Blues playmaker, who struggled in management with Watford, West Ham and Birmingham, is in charge for at least a short period while a longer-term solution is found.
Former CSKA Moscow, Hull and Russia boss Leonid Slutsky is a friend of Abramovich’s and could be an option.
When Hiddink took charge for his two caretaker spells, they followed short stints with Ray Wilkins and then Steve Holland in control.
Sarri was appointed on July 14, a day after Antonio Conte was sacked, belatedly, after starting pre-season.
Conte’s Premier League win in his first season, 2016-17, and FA Cup triumph in his final game in charge look all the more remarkable with hindsight.
Seven months on, Sarri faces nine days and three games to turn around a seemingly-inevitable fate.
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