Maurizio Sarri will be fighting to save his job when crisis club Chelsea face Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round on Monday.
Sarri is in danger of being sacked after a dismal first season at Stamford Bridge and crashing out of the FA Cup would push the Italian closer to the axe.
Chelsea suffered their heaviest defeat for 28 years when they were thrashed 6-0 at Manchester City last weekend, an indignity that came just weeks after a humiliating 4-0 loss at Bournemouth.
Amid claims Sarri has lost the support of his players, the former Napoli boss held clear-the-air talks this week in a bid to convince the squad to stick with him.
It is not the first time he has challenged Chelsea’s stars after accusing them of being hard to motivate, questioning their mental strength and claiming they don’t understand even the basics of his game plan.
Sarri’s players are said to be unhappy with the Italian’s uninspiring training methods and refusal to adapt his tactics to the players he has at his disposal.
Cesar Azpilicueta, Marcos Alonso and N’Golo Kante are all being asked to perform roles that are ill-suited to their strengths and so far Sarri’s lengthy debriefs have made little difference.
While ‘Sarri-ball’ was a big hit with Napoli, Chelsea have looked laboured for much of this season, struggling for cohesion in midfield and lacking cutting edge up front.
Demanding Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and influential director Marina Granovskaia are unlikely to spare Sarri unless results and performances improve soon.
That means Sarri must lift Chelsea – beaten in seven of their last 22 games – back into the Premier League’s top four and keep them on course for silverware.
They are still in the Europa League, having beaten Malmo in the last 32 first leg on Thursday, and face Manchester City in the League Cup final next Sunday.
But first Sarri must focus on United’s visit to the Bridge as holders Chelsea look to move closer to a third successive FA Cup final appearance.