Following four games without a win in the Premier League, Chelsea have fallen from the top of the table to third place, four points behind their opponents on the weekend, Manchester City. Things are much more glum in the Champions League, where they are on the verge of exiting the competition. Juventus' 3-0 victory over the Blues on Tuesday means that Chelsea must win their last match while hoping that the match between Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk does not end in a draw.
This five-game stretch was all the excuse that Roman Abramovich needed to fire Roberto Di Matteo, just three months after hiring him as the permanent manager and six months after he won the FA Cup and Champions League for Chelsea. Over at Chelsea FC blog We Ain't Got No History, Graham MacAree takes a look at the events leading up to this moment, concluding that Di Matteo was put in a position to fail.
Didier Drogba left. Salomon Kalou left. Romelu Lukaku was loaned to West Bromwich Albion. Raul Meireles was sold to Fenerbahce. Michael Essien was loaned to Real Madrid. This left di Matteo in a bizarre situation -- he was forced to play one of Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge up top, two players so obviously flawed that it can be physically painful to watch them at work. And in the midfield, Frank Lampard's injury means a John Obi Mikel-Ramires pivot that looks decent on paper but has coincided with the team's organisational meltdown.
In a sense, then, di Matteo's the fall guy for structural failures elsewhere. That's not to say he didn't compound the problem with some of his decisions, or that his players didn't fail to perform when they should have, but the issues we were going to face were clear from the start. But that's the manager's job in this club: A very well-compensated fall-guy.
Whether the new manager of Chelsea is Pep Guardiola, Rafael Benitez or some entirely off-the-radar candidate, they're going to have to deal with the same issues that Di Matteo did. While Di Matteo's decision-making over the last five games was a contributing factor to Chelsea's poor run of form, no manager can make a functional midfield and a competent center forward appear out of thin air.