Chelsea players will get no say in Conte future
Roman Abramovich will refuse to allow player power to decide the fate of Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte, even though it may only be a matter of time until the Italian departs.
Former managers Luiz Felipe Scolari, Andre Villas-Boas and, to a lesser extent, Jose Mourinho, at the end of his second spell, became victims of dressing-room dissatisfaction at Stamford Bridge.
But with the club legends such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech all gone, along with Branislav Ivanovic, it is understood that none of the current squad has a direct line to the Chelsea owner.
Abramovich has been in London and was at the home defeat by Bournemouth that preceded Monday's 4-1 loss against Watford when Chelsea had Tiemoue Bakayoko sent off in the first half. But he has not canvassed the opinion of Conte's players, as Chelsea wait to see whether they can lift themselves out of their recent slump.
The billionaire has visited the training ground to speak with Conte during difficult periods in the past and will deal directly with him, director Marina Granovskaia and the rest of the Chelsea board, rather than players.
Conte rowed with Diego Costa last season and has fallen out with David Luiz during this campaign, but the Brazilian returned to his starting line-up at Vicarage Road.
The Italian dismissed the suggestion that his squad could influence Chelsea's thinking, even though "palpable discord" between Mourinho and his players was blamed for the dismissal of the Portuguese in 2015.
It has long been predicted that Conte would leave Chelsea at the end of the season, but the two heavy defeats have increased the threat of a change before then.
Chelsea insist that no discussions have taken place over sacking Conte and that they have not spoken to any potential successors.
Former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique is the favourite to succeed Conte and the Spaniard is understood to be keen on working in the Premier League. But it is unclear whether Enrique would be prepared to cut short his sabbatical and step in before the end of the season.
Former Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel is another interested in the Chelsea post and may be happy to step in immediately.
The fact Chelsea are still fourth in the table and in the FA Cup and Champions League has given Conte some room for error, but time could run out if the season begins to collapse. He faces a pivotal period in which his side face West Brom, an FA Cup fifth-round game against Hull City and a Champions League last-16 tie with Barcelona.
A number of players publicly voiced their backing for Conte in the aftermath of Monday's defeat at Watford, while it has emerged that it was captain Gary Cahill's idea for the players to have three days off.
Chelsea's squad had been due to take one day off following the Watford game before returning to training on Wednesday. But Conte changed his plans and granted the squad two more days after Cahill suggested it may be beneficial. It means Chelsea will not begin preparations for next Monday night's match against West Brom until Friday.
There have been suggestions that players have become tired of Conte's tough training regime, and left wing-back Marcos Alonso missed the Watford defeat because of fatigue.
Ross Barkley became the eighth player to suffer a hamstring injury in the run-up to the Watford game, although the midfielder is expected to be back in a week.
Conte, though, appears willing to take the views of his squad on board and Cahill has demonstrated that the players want to take an active part in finding a solution to the recent troubles.
"Whatever is decided, the players have to take responsibility," said Cahill. "The manager has done an absolutely unbelievable job. This is the worst I've felt for quite a while.
"Performance-wise [against Watford], I didn't recognise us or myself. It was abysmal. We just need to keep strong. I've been here before at this club - it's about staying calm. It hurts a lot when you come off after a performance like that."
Vice-captain Cesar Azpilicueta has also come out in support of Conte. "We are here altogether," he said. "We are all disappointed with the results. We know that there is speculation here all the time - it has been that way in the six years I have been here.
"Are the players letting the coach down? No. I think if you see the training sessions, we all fight hard. We are the first to be disappointed with the way the last two games went. We are getting penalised in the bad moments we are having in the game. It's not a long period, but in this league, which is so tough, you get punished as soon as you drop a bit."
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois added: "We believe in him [Conte] and we believe in our team. 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."
© Daily Telegraph, London