The Chelsea manager, Carlo Ancelotti, has been offered a way out of Stamford Bridge by Roma, one of the clubs he used to play for.
Ancelotti, whose Chelsea team yesterday drew 1-1 with Newcastle United, has long harboured an ambition to return to Roma, who are currently coached by former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri. They have slipped behind Serie A leaders Milan and are understood to have been in contact with Ancelotti after the Italian voiced his unhappiness with the recent events at Chelsea, which include the sacking of his assistant, Ray Wilkins.
For the first time this season, Chelsea do not lead the Premier League, instead trailing Manchester United by two points. Ancelotti is coming under pressure, with reports the club's owner Roman Abramovich is eyeing Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
Ancelotti yesterday dismissed the stories, which first surfaced more than a month ago, saying: "Usually the coach is the last to know these rumours. But I know Pep Guardiola. We are not interested in what happens off the field. We focus on our training and our matches."
Ancelotti admitted Chelsea are lacking character in the prolonged absence of John Terry and Frank Lampard, mainstays of the side that won the Double last season.
Terry has missed the last three games with a persistent nerve problem in his leg that has so far failed to respond to treatment, while Lampard has been sidelined since August with groin and hernia injuries.
"They [Terry and Lampard] are very important players, not just technically, but because they have personality and character, and at the moment, we need to have that kind of player at our disposal," he said.
Chelsea are already in a state of back-room flux – the club have approached the former Barcelona director of football Txiki Begiristain about replacing sporting director Frank Arnesen, who is one of Ancelotti's allies. Arnesen announced at the weekend he will leave his post at the end of the season, although sources say he is likely to be put on gardening leave much sooner. The possible arrival of Begiristain at Stamford Bridge bolsters the view that Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola is the man the club's Russian owner Roman Abramovich ultimately wants in charge.
Yesterday's draw at Newcastle was the club's first point in three Premier League games since Abramovich's decision to sack assistant manager Ray Wilkins and replace him with chief scout Michael Emenalo. Ancelotti is deeply unhappy with the way Wilkins was sacked and, although he has agreed to accept the decision, he is understood to be uncertain about his long-term future at the champions.
Chelsea conceded an early goal to Andy Carroll but equalised through Salomon Kalou. Their mood was not improved when their flight to London was cancelled and they had to take a seven-hour coach journey instead.
In the testing circumstances, Ancelotti was relieved to have won a point. "To concede a goal every time at the start of a game is not good," he said. "But we didn't lose, this is the important thing, we got the draw."
Ancelotti said he hopes to have Terry, and maybe also Lampard, available for next week's home game against Everton. He said: "Next week for him [Terry] and Lampard will be an important week. They will start to train with the team. We have a week to control their condition and I hope both, maybe more John Terry than Lampard, will be able to play against Everton."