Antonio Conte's future at Chelsea is in renewed doubt following his fresh complaints over squad size and the club’s transfer business.
Following Chelsea’ Carabao Cup semi-final exit at Arsenal on Wednesday, Conte again bemoaned the lack of options at his disposal to echo his complaints from the summer.
Conte’s gripes during the previous transfer window strained the relationship between the Italian and the board, only for those issues to be put to one side once the season kicked off.
However, with the 2017-18 season increasingly looking like it will not be one to remember after last year’s impressive Premier League title win, the cracks are beginning to reappear.
The Chelsea boss has already conceded that his team won’t retain the Premier League title, while the Champions League looks like a big ask with Barcelona coming up in the round of 16.
Though his long-term future may not be decided yet, the divisions over transfers, which caused his departure from Juventus by ‘mutual consent’ in 2014, mean it is in doubt. However, the combined £50m signings of Roma duo Edin Dzeko and Emerson Palmieri may help ease tensions between the directors and Conte.
He tried to put distance between himself and Chelsea's transfer policy after Wednesday's 2-1 defeat at the Emirates, where he also said he had been suffering from a lack of sleep.
“I think there are different situations," Conte, who gave January signing Ross Barkley his debut as a substitute against Arsenal, said. "Sometimes I can have an impact on the transfer market, sometimes I don’t have an impact on this. My first task is to do my job, and be a coach, and to try to improve my players. For sure, I don’t have a big impact on the transfer market.”
Chelsea may not be in a position to replace Conte just yet, but they would be right to consider several names as a contingency plan.
Maurizio Sarri is a front-runner for the job after leading Napoli to the top of Serie A and his current contract has an €8m buy-out clause which can be activated up until May. However, Napoli are in negotiations with Sarri over a new deal which will remove that clause and secure his long-term future.
Massimiliano Allegri has ambitions to manage outside Italy but Juventus are reluctant to let him go having backed their coach in his row with star defender Leonardo Bonucci last summer.
Former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has been linked, but isn't expected to get the call, while Leonardo Jardim may also be interested in the position amid rumours in France he could leave Monaco after this season.
Keeping Conte remains Chelsea's favoured option but the club's director Marina Granovskaia won't be dictated to on transfer policy and will be the winner if the 47-year-old takes her on.
She has a direct line to the club's owner Roman Abramovich and has the final say on all transfers, as well as contract renewals. However, it is understood that, despite Conte playing down his role in transfers, he is always asked for a shortlist of players.
Conte has been manager at a time when Chelsea have significantly reduced their net spend in successive transfer windows as they raise money to buy players through the sales of other players.
Chelsea have become profitable for two of the last four years but have been outspent by Manchester City by some distance for many consecutive transfer windows . In fact, Chelsea last outspent City in the 2012-13 season, while Manchester United are using their incredible commercial revenue to invest in their playing staff.
The club’s strategy has seen Chelsea miss out on several high-profile targets for Conte, including Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Danilo, Radja Nainggolan and Kalidou Koulibaly.
Goal understands that Conte has the option to return to the Italy national team role, should he leave Chelsea, but that Paris Saint-Germain also have a keen eye on him given Unai Emery's long-term future is still in doubt after a poor season last year.
Both Milan clubs have had an interest in Conte in the past year but it is thought that he is cautious about taking those roles. Conte is keen to work in other elite footballing countries and it is understood that he doesn't require a return to his home country just yet.
There are many possible outcomes with regards to Conte's future, but it is far from certain, and the potential knock-on effect is that incoming signings may be reluctant to sign for a team about to change their manager.