Roman Abramovich has been preoccupied of late, busy helping out Russia's successful bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Sooner rather than later, however, the ruthless Russian oligarch is going to decide the time has come to act as Chelsea's season limps from one disaster to another.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti was visibly upset after this defeat in Marseilles, Chelsea's fourth loss in eight games in all competitions. His normal humour and optimism had evaporated, and somehow he looked older, as if carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, when he emerged for a press conference half an hour after the final whistle. Ancelotti has not looked this troubled and gloomy in his 18 months at Chelsea. It was as if he knew his fate hangs in the balance.
Chelsea began and ended the game poorly. For an hour sandwiched in the middle of the contest they more than matched the French champions, and could have had two penalties after fouls on Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou that were incorrectly called by referee Vladislav Bezborodov.
However, by the end of the contest their frailties were once again exposed as Marseilles' bustling Brazilian striker Brandao was left unmarked in the six-yard box to score a late winner.
Ancelotti had put out a strong team against Marseilles in a bid to rebuild some confidence ahead of a testing run of games against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Bolton Wanderers and Arsenal, but it was not to be.
Ancelotti said: "The bad moment continues, but we have to keep going. We've lost some confidence in our play. I'm not low. I'm strong. I want to resolve this problem quickly. I'm focused on my job. This is normal. I think my players have that same focus. I'm sure of this.
"We have a great opportunity against Tottenham, a difficult game away against a top team. But we must consider that a good opportunity. Now everyone thinks we will lose that game. For this, we need to prepare for that game well and try to win it."
Ancelotti is certainly living on borrowed time, for Abramovich is not known for his patience. He sacked Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2008 after three wins in nine games; Avram Grant got the boot a few months later despite being a penalty kick away from winning the Champions League; and Jose Mourinho was fired despite a record haul of six trophies in three years.
The ray of hope for Chelsea came not in Marseilles but in Cobham, where Frank Lampard continued his rehabilitation after nearly four months out following hernia surgery, and he could be fit to face Spurs on Sunday.
"Frank trained today and had a good session. We'll take a decision in the next two days," Ancelotti said. With Lampard and the captain John Terry on the pitch, Chelsea have a chance of turning this slump around; without them, they look doomed.
Terry managed 71 minutes here before he was forced to leave the pitch with an ankle injury that is not expected to keep him out of the weekend's game at White Hart Lane. It was no coincidence that within 10 minutes of Terry leaving the pitch, Chelsea conceded the game's only goal. Marseilles left-back Taye Taiwo was allowed time and space to cross from the wing, the pass took a deflection off the ineffective Ramires and Brandao was free to score from close range.
Chelsea were unfortunate to lose this game, not that it will help Ancelotti in the final analysis when he has to explain the club's loss of form. They started poorly, and almost went behind when Mathieu Valbuena hit the bar with a shot from distance, but should by rights have had two penalties in the first half.
The first, a foul by Souleymane Diawara on Malouda, was initially given by the Russian referee but he changed his mind after receiving advice from his linesman on his headset. The second, when Diawara clattered into Kalou, occurred yards from the assistant referee standing beside the goal, but no penalty was given.
Chelsea had their moments, and the performance of 17-year-old Josh McEachran in only his second start was full of promise. Didier Drogba, however, was a major disappointment on his return to his former club, and the standing ovation he received when he was substituted with half an hour to go was markedly out of sync with his lacklustre performance.
With Ancelotti in the doldrums, it was left to Terry to deliver the rallying cry ahead of Sunday's game at Spurs where Chelsea will be without Jose Bosingwa who limped off with a hamstring injury.
"There is no point us panicking," Terry said. "We realise we are not playing as well as we can, the players realise there is a lot more to give and to come. Sunday is a massive derby for us and for the fans. We're hoping to kickstart an important time for us."
Marseilles (4-3-3): Mandanda; Kaboure, Diawara, Heinze, Taiwo; Abriel (A Ayew, 63), N'Diaye (J Ayew, 86), Cheyrou; Valbuena (Lucho, 62), Brandao, Remy. Substitutes not used Andrade (gk), Cissé, Sabo.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa (Van Aanholt, 80), Ivanovic, Terry (Bruma, 72), Ferreira; Essien, McEachran, Ramires; Kalou, Drogba (Sturridge, 62), Malouda. Substitutes not used Turnbull (gk), Mikel, Kakuta, Sala.
Referee: V Bezborodov (Russia).
Booked: Marseilles A Ayew.
Man of the match: Valbuena.
Results so far: Marseilles 0-1 Spartak, Zilina 1-4 Chelsea; Spartak 3-0 Zilina, Chelsea 2-0 Marseilles; Spartak 0-2 Chelsea, Marseilles 1-0 Zilina; Chelsea 4-1 Spartak, Zilina 0-7 Marseilles; Chelsea 2-1 Zilina, Moscow 0-3 Marseilles; Marseilles 1-0 Chelsea, Zilina 1-2 Spartak Moscow.
MSK Zilina 1-2 Spartak Moscow
Spartak beat Zilina 2-1 in a dead rubber hit by crowd trouble. Fans launched a fire cracker on to the pitch and the sides briefly went off after three minutes.Reuse content