Chelsea look set to keep faith with manager Antonio Conte despite the club’s nosediving form intensifying speculation that the Italian’s departure is only a matter of time.
Conte appeared to invite the club to sack him following Monday’s 4-1 defeat at Watford – their third loss in four games, and part of a longer sequence of just two wins in 10.
The Premier League champions’ rapid decline since the turn of the year has left their top-four place in jeopardy ahead of a run of big games, which includes a European tie against Barcelona.
The ex-Juventus coach, meanwhile, has seemed increasingly unhappy, voicing his dissatisfaction with the club’s transfer policy and engaging in a bitter slanging match with predecessor Jose Mourinho.
Former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has been strongly linked with the Stamford Bridge hot-seat in Spanish media, should Blues owner Roman Abramovich fire the ninth long-term coach of his 15-year tenure.
But despite the air of uncertainty Chelsea are understood to be ready to give more time to Conte, who led them to the league title last season and remains in the FA Cup and Champions League.
The team sit fourth in the top flight and do not play again until Monday, when they host bottom-of-the-table West Brom. Conte has given his squad until Friday to rest in a bid to reverse their slump.
Captain Gary Cahill has leapt to the defence of Conte, praising his achievements and attributing blame for the team’s form to the players.
“Whatever is decided, the players have to take responsibility. The manager has done an absolutely unbelievable job,” he said, reflecting on the Watford defeat. “This is the worst I’ve felt for quite a while. Performance-wise, I didn’t recognise us or myself. It was abysmal.”
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois insisted Conte retains the support of the dressing room.
“We believe in him and we believe in our team,” he said. “We have two bad results and we just try to get back, regroup and continue. We showed that we wanted to fight, even with 10 men, and that shows we have character, but when you lose twice like that it is not good and there are questions raised.”
Conte emphasised after Monday’s loss that he did not fear being dismissed but appeared to challenge Chelsea chiefs to fire him if they felt he was not performing well enough.
“I am not worried about my job. I work hard every day and give 100 per cent. My soul is clear and I go to sleep without the problem that maybe I could to this,” he said.
He added: “This is not my problem. I try to do my job and to put everything in my job. If this is enough, it’s okay. Otherwise they can take their decision.”