Antonio Conte’s damning and withering verdict of Chelsea’s performance as they threw away two points against West Ham has left even more question marks hanging over his future - with any hope of Champions League football next season now looking forlorn.
And then there were four. Four games and 12 points which Pep Guardiola and Manchester City require to make mathematically certain of the Premier League title after Bernardo Silva’s goal allowed his team to open up an 18-point lead at the top of the table.
The Sunday newspapers may have made difficult reading for Chelsea and their Italian manager but the chants of ‘Antonio, Antonio’ ringing around Stamford Bridge during a routine 3-0 FA Cup fourth round victory over Newcastle suggest it is too early to write off Antonio Conte’s future in west London just yet. Transfer deadline day, mind you, looks likely to provide a better barometer.
Eden Hazard scored twice as Chelsea battled to a 3-3 draw with Roma to stay top of Champions League Group C. Chelsea had surrendered a two-goal lead to trail 3-2 with 20 minutes remaining after former Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko’s quick-fire double.
Antonio Conte could never be accused of overhyping Chelsea’s chances of retaining their Premier League title, but the manager’s reaction to Saturday’s defeat at Crystal Palace only underlined the scale of the task confronting the defending champions.
N'Golo Kante may have remained humble as he received the 2017 Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year award, but Chelsea are confident the midfielder can continue to drive them on to more success.
If there was any tension remaining in the title race — and let’s be honest there wasn’t a lot — Chelsea’s comfortable victory over Middlesbrough has seen it totally evaporate and opened up an opportunity for Antonio Conte’s side to be crowned champions at West Brom on Friday before rivals Tottenham even kick a ball again.
Any suggestions that Chelsea could throw away the league title despite dominating the race for so long, or any hopes Manchester City could somehow find the discipline, consistency and momentum make it a three-way chase, have largely been put to bed by Eden Hazard after he guided the leaders to a narrow but crucial victory at Stamford Bridge.