Chelsea history seems bound to repeat itself as pendulum swings for Conte
Life lurches from the sublime to the ridiculous very quickly for Chelsea supporters these days. The swiftness by which the pendulum swings between success and perceived failure at Stamford Bridge has become a source of acute frustration for fans who again are facing up to the reality of a much-loved manager getting the sack and the uncertain future it would bring with it.
A little more than two years ago, Jose Mourinho's Chelsea world imploded swiftly after the Premier League title had been won at a canter, and now history appears to be about to repeat itself as the Blues' parlous run of form since the turn of the year plumbed new depths with shock-inducing losses to Bournemouth and Watford, results that shovelled intense pressure on beleaguered current boss Antonio Conte.
The shambolic nature of those defeats have led many fans to believe that the players' hearts and minds are no longer with the Italian, and the possible reasons why have been widely debated, as have the wider issues perceived to be detrimental to the cause of Conte and Chelsea.
Conte's public spats with Diego Costa and David Luiz, his spartan training regime, his abrasive personality, the Chelsea board's lack of direct experience in football and the missed transfer targets, a faltering relationship with owner Roman Abramovich, the departure of assistant manager Steve Holland and even the departure of much-maligned director of football Michael Emenalo are all factors. When combined, it has made for an incendiary cocktail. Add a heavy dash of expectation to win and it's very easy to see just how poisonous the Chelsea chalice has become to drink from for Conte.
As things stand, despite the Chelsea manager's public request for the board to issue a statement of support for him, none has been forthcoming. In fact, the wall of silence from within the higher echelons of Stamford Bridge has become deafening. The inference is that Abramovich & Co. have had enough and it's not a question of if Conte will depart, more a matter of when.
Following the 4-1 thrashing by Watford, Conte took the hitherto unprecedented step of giving his squad three days off from training, during which club captain Gary Cahill and stand-in skipper Cesar Azpilicueta have separately announced that the team remains fully behind their manager and that they have to take responsibility for what has happened.
At 32, Cahill's star is waning as a player. As a defender, he has been found out by fleet-footed opponents on plenty of occasions this season and perhaps this realisation has affected his ability to galvanise the team when things have gone wrong. Because of his fallibilities, Cahill's words of support for Conte have been taken with a pinch of salt by supporters. Azpilicueta, on the other hand, with his do-or-die indefatigable attitude to playing for Chelsea, has become the lone credible voice of the dressing room.
There is no doubt the Spain international is ready to go to battle for the Blues and for Conte, but whether he carries the same degree of influence that departed war horse, captain, leader and venerable club legend John Terry did remains to be seen. Terry was blessed for much of his Chelsea career to be surrounded by like-minded characters. Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Branislav Ivanovic ... the list could go on, but this quintet illustrate well enough the indomitable spirit that made Stamford Bridge a fortress for so long. It's this withering away of the true soul of Chelsea that dismays the fans much more than the rapid churn in managers. The idea that the current team could turn adversity into triumph, as happened in 2012, seems fanciful. The Blues might still be in the Champions League and FA Cup, but this time around it really would be a miracle if they pulled off that double.
When Mourinho was sacked, there were protests and banners proclaiming support. Much as Conte is loved, the same won't happen this time around when the Italian inevitably leaves, be that imminently or at the end of the season. Sure, there will be defiant "Antonio Antonio" chants, but they will soon dissipate as the reality of the repetitive situation at the Bridge blankets enthusiasm for such things. The current view is the next manager will be appointed and the boom-and-bust cycle will begin again.
Right now there is a genuine concern that success might be harder to come by and that the project to redevelop the stadium might become more important than team affairs for Abramovich.
Salvation for the fans could come in the form of Terry and Lampard, the two players at the vanguard of Chelsea's myriad successes under the Russian's ownership. Should they be up for the challenge, their appointment to the Blues coaching staff would work wonders for supporter morale and give players at all levels within the club mentors to look up to and believe in.
It's a simple and very obvious potential solution to stop the rot at the Bridge, and it's difficult to believe that Abramovich has not already thought of it. While there can be no guarantee of immediate success, the feel-good factor would override the hard slog involved in bringing much-needed stability to the club.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco