Should Chelsea sack Antonio Conte to give club a lift before FA Cup final?
Chelsea's abject 3-0 capitulation against a very ordinary Newcastle United side at St James's Park all but extinguished the last flickering flames of support among the fans for beleaguered boss Antonio Conte.
The abysmal performance underlined an increasingly widely held belief that the Blues' players have given up on Conte -- a man who looked like he was living in a world of pain as he watched the curtain slowly come down on a disastrous Premier League campaign.
Ordinarily, this should have spelt the end of the road for the Italian. A botched title defence, failure to qualify for the Champions League and a catalogue of embarrassing defeats will have tried the patience of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to the point where in previous years there would have been a parting of ways.
But Conte continues to cling to his job and he now has the task of preparing a team to contest the FA Cup final against Manchester United on Saturday.
With motivation levels among the squad appearing to drop to new depths for the season, in the wake of the Newcastle debacle there were plenty of solutions being suggested by vexed Chelsea supporters across social media sites. Among them, that if Abramovich was at all interested in winning the FA Cup he should sack Conte immediately. Of course this notion brought with it the question of who might look after team affairs up to and including the final?
Under-18s manager Jody Morris who has enjoyed a stellar campaign guiding his charges to four trophies including the FA Youth Cup is a name that keeps cropping up. As Conte's season has unravelled, Morris has gone from strength to strength with plenty suggesting the 39-year-old should be promoted to an assistant manager-type role next season. Short-term, there is absolutely no doubt that Morris could take on the mantle of caretaker manager and ready Chelsea for Wembley.
Sacking Conte and appointing Morris would quite likely provide a similar lift to players and supporters alike as happened back in March 2012 when Andre Villas-Boas was fired and replaced by his assistant Roberto Di Matteo, who had already attained legend status with the fans in his time as a Chelsea player.
Two months later Di Matteo, then 41 years of age, led the Blues out at Wembley where they duly beat Liverpool 2-1 to win the FA Cup. Remarkably, there was more glory in store as the Champions League was won a couple of weeks later via a penalty shootout triumph over Bayern Munich. Of course things turned sour for Di Matteo later in the year and he too was sacked by Abramovich, but the point is he was the right man at the right time to give the whole club the boost it needed.
Given what has gone before, it's strange that Abramovich appears to be sitting idly by as Chelsea go to rack and ruin under Conte. Yes, there is the fact that terminating the 48-year olds contract a year early would cost somewhere approaching £10 million, but given the Italian's position at the Bridge is clearly untenable this suggests that there will be a new manager in charge for the start of next season which will require a severance payment to be made anyway.
One thing is certain: right now Conte and everyone connected with Chelsea are not in a good place and instead of there being a pre FA Cup final buzz there is a blanket of gloom and despondency which is unlikely to lift until Abramovich changes the order of things.
Chelsea being Chelsea though, there's always a faint hope among supporters that, despite current problems, somehow the team will rise above them and put in a mesmerising performance against Man United which will bring cup glory.
A little over a week ago, the Blues beat Liverpool 1-0 at the Bridge in what was hailed in many quarters as the type of tactical masterclass that brought Conte the title last season. It's possible the Italian has one last hurrah in him, but sadly the reality is he looks a spent force and the concern is his continued presence will ultimately prove detrimental to Chelsea at Wembley where there is no hiding place for failures.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco