Jose Mourinho will be given a final chance to save his job as Chelsea manager and prove that he can turn around the side's abysmal season with the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, unsure over a mid-season contingency plan.
A sixth Premier League defeat of the season, against Liverpool on Satur-day, has left Mourinho on the brink, but the lack of an obvious immediate replacement is complicating Abramovich's decision.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal that Mourinho held a lengthy heart-to-heart with Eden Hazard ahead of the Liverpool game in a bid to get the best out of his star player, as the Portuguese manager and Chelsea continue to deny that Mourinho has lost the support of first-team squad members.
Abramovich has attempted to back Mourinho, but is adamant that Chelsea must qualify for the Champions League, and the owner will act accordingly to try and make sure that happens.
The club are 10 points off the top four and cannot afford to slip much further off the pace. Mourinho has not been given a set number of games to save his job, but there must be an instant improvement in results - starting against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League on Wednesday night and Stoke City in the Premier League on Saturday.
Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone, Antonio Conte and a surprise candidate, the CSKA Moscow manager Leonid Slutsky, would be on -Abramovich's shortlist if he was to make a summer change, but the Chelsea owner is yet to identify a firefighter with which to -replace Mourinho for the -remainder of the season.
Carlo Ancelotti has been in London, but he does not want a caretaker role and there would be reluctance on the part of the Italian and Chelsea to rush into a permanent return. Guus Hiddink is available and has hinted that he would accept a second spell as interim manager but the Dutchman, 68, failed in his last job in charge of the Holland national team.
The 3-1 defeat by Liverpool prompted Mourinho to summon his coaching staff for a 15-minute meeting in the centre circle of the Stamford Bridge pitch after completing his media duties.
So far, they have failed to find the answers for Chelsea's dramatic fall from grace. Mourinho has changed his players, changed their positions, used the carrot, reverted to the stick and offered the carrot again. But, so far, nothing has worked. For the visit of Liverpool, he switched Hazard into his favoured No?10 role but the Belgian lasted 59 ineffective minutes before he was replaced by the Brazilian youngster Kenedy.
Mourinho's relationship with Hazard has been the subject of much scrutiny this season after he relegated the forward to the substitutes' bench for the victory over -Aston Villa and criticised his work-rate. Surprised at being publicly criticised, Hazard then fuelled speculation over a potential move to Real Madrid by "liking" a post on Instagram linking him to the -Spanish club.
With the Belgian's form well -below the standard that earned him the PFA Player of the Year award last season, Mourinho spoke at length with Hazard at Chelsea's Cobham training ground last week to make sure there was no deep--lying problem. The talks were described as positive and Mourinho and his coaching staff were confident a breakthrough had been made, -despite the fact Hazard missed the decisive penalty in the Capital One Cup shootout defeat by Stoke City.
Another below-par performance from Hazard against Liverpool raised new questions over whether Mourinho was getting through to the 24-year-old, but his team-mate John Obi Mikel insisted that there was nobody better to sort out the mess than the self-proclaimed -Special One.
"Last year we were champions, we won two trophies," Mikel said. "Jose knows this club more than any other manager.
"I think he's the most successful manager in the club's history. I definitely think that if anything is wrong, if anything can be fixed, he is the one. There's nobody out there that is going to come in and fix what's going on.
"If we were not giving 100 per cent, then there is the doubt, but we are giving 100 per cent, we are playing for the manager, we are right behind him.
Our performances show that we are right behind him. It's just that right now things aren't going well. Everyone [from the outside] wants him to go, but I don't think it's the right way to go. I think that inside that dressing room we definitely believe he is the man to change things. He knows this club in and out. He knows what's wrong and it's just a matter of time before -results start coming."
Mikel is one of Chelsea's longest-serving players and worked under Mourinho before the Portuguese was sacked by Abramovich in 2007. Despite this season's run of results, the midfielder believes that Mourinho is now a better manager than he was eight years ago.
"I think he's technically and tactically better, that's why he came back and in the second season we won the Premier League again," Mikel said.
"I know this club demands to win and win and win and win, but it's just a difficult period we are going through right now. He is the man.
"He deserves a chance. The fans are still behind him. The players are definitely behind him. I think we will turn things around, it's just a matter of time."
Mourinho was furious that the Liverpool midfielder Lucas was not shown a second yellow card for a foul on Ramires and Mikel said: "A few minutes before, the ref gave me a yellow card for my first foul and then just after that Lucas committed a foul on Ramires. For me, it should have been a yellow card.
"Everyone can see how much hard work we are putting in, but it's just that the results are not coming for us. Every shot at goal is a goal against us. We just need a bit of that luck, which we don't have at the minute."