Maurizio Sarri’s job as Chelsea manager is hanging by a thread after club chiefs met yesterday to decide their next move.
The Italian’s future has come under fierce scrutiny and owner Roman Abramovich is ready to wield the axe again.
Derby boss Frank Lampard is Chelsea’s record goalscorer and a possible successor, but whether he would move at this stage of the season is uncertain.
Former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Sarri following internal discussions at the club. To compound Chelsea’s woes, winger Eden Hazard is understood to be favouring a move to Madrid.
Supporters turned on their 60-year-old head coach after Monday’s home FA Cup loss to Manchester United and Chelsea accept they may have to act soon.
Abramovich has made 12 managerial changes since he took over the club in 2003 and that trend looks set to continue.
After tomorrow’s Europa League second leg, Chelsea face Manchester City again, in the EFL Cup final on Sunday.
Sarri is scheduled to address the media again today ahead of the last-32 tie against Malmo in which Chelsea hold a 2-1 lead.
The former Napoli chief – who has never won a trophy as a manager – replaced fellow Italian Antonio Conte last summer.
After the 2-0 defeat by United, former Chelsea striker Chris Sutton said: “He’ll get the sack for numerous reasons — things he’s said, that he can’t motivate the players, his inability to adapt”
The Italian’s future has come under increasing scrutiny since a 6-0 defeat by Manchester City on February 10.
After the Cup final, Chelsea take on Tottenham in the Premier League on the following Wednesday as they attempt to bridge the gap to the top four.
Chelsea are in sixth, one point behind fourth-placed United.
Chelsea winger Pedro said: “There is an important game in the Europa League for us and after the final against City.
“The most important thing now is to stay calm, train really hard and recover our best football and our best feeling, because if not we are in trouble.”
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.
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.
Home fans joined in as United fans sang “You’re getting sacked in the morning”, before singing about Frank Lampard.
The Blues could appoint an interim boss as they have done with Guus Hiddink in 2010 and 2016, and Rafael Benitez in 2013.
However, if Sarri goes, necessity may dictate that assistant Gianfranco Zola is in charge for at least a short period.
Former CSKA Moscow, Hull and Russia boss Leonid Slutsky is a friend of Abramovich’s and could be an option.