Chelsea 'keen for swift appointment'
Roman Abramovich is increasingly confident of appointing a replacement for Roberto Di Matteo on Wednesday evening after ruthlessly sacking yet another Chelsea manager.
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Press Association Sport understands Blues owner Abramovich has identified the man to fill the void, amid reports Rafael Benitez would be parachuted into the job until the end of the season.
Abramovich is keen to have someone in place before Sunday's crunch Barclays Premier League game against Manchester City and Chelsea hope to make an announcement before Thursday.
Their billionaire benefactor is said to have tried again to convince number one target Pep Guardiola to cancel his one-year sabbatical, having failed to do so in the summer.
Another refusal from the former Barcelona manager would force Abramovich once more to turn elsewhere, with Benitez and Avram Grant favourites - two names that will not go down well with many of the club's fans.
Former Liverpool boss Benitez was quizzed in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday morning about whether an approach had been made, prior to reports he would jet back to London for talks with Chelsea.
He told Sport360: "You ask directly, I cannot answer directly.
"In football, a lot of people are talking so we will see what happens in the next few days.
"I am looking for a club that can challenge for trophies and Chelsea is one of these clubs."
Asked whether he would accept a short-term deal having not be interested in that earlier when he was heavily linked with the job prior to Di Matteo's appointment, he added: "I have to talk with my agent and see what he has been doing the last couple of days.
"But I am just trying to go to a team that can win."
That was much the same as Benitez said earlier this year before watching Di Matteo pick Chelsea up off the floor to inspire the greatest climax to a season in the club's history.
But not even delivering Abramovich's Holy Grail of the Champions League - as well as the FA Cup - could spare Di Matteo becoming the latest victim of the most uncompromising owner in football.
Last night's 3-0 defeat at Juventus was the final straw for Abramovich, who it is understood had already been considering wielding the axe following an alarming slump in form.
He wasted little time after Di Matteo's radical tactics and team selection backfired spectacularly in 3-0 loss in Turin, where Chelsea suffered their worst ever Champions League group stage result to leave them facing becoming the first holders to crash out before Christmas.
Abramovich instructed chairman Bruce Buck and chief executive Ron Gourlay to deliver the bad news, which they did at around 4am at the club's training ground following the team's return flight to London.
It is understood Di Matteo was far from shocked by the decision and had already said what amounted to a farewell to some of his players prior to the meeting.
Chelsea waited until 9am to confirm his departure, saying in a statement: "Chelsea Football Club has parted company this morning with manager Roberto Di Matteo.
"The team's recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and the board felt that a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season.
"The club faces a difficult task ahead in qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League, as well as maintaining a strong challenge for the top of the Premier League while competing in three other cup competitions.
"Our aim is to remain as competitive as possible and challenge strongly on all fronts.
"The owner and the board would like to thank Roberto for all he has done for the club since taking over in March.
"Roberto helped guide us to an historic Champions League victory and a seventh FA Cup. We will never forget the huge contribution he has made to this club's history and he will always be welcome at Stamford Bridge.
"The club will be making an announcement shortly regarding a new first team manager."
On paper, the decision to sack Di Matteo looks the most brutal of Abramovich's near-decade at Stamford Bridge and it is understood the Russian was warned it could result in a backlash.
But he was never 100% convinced Di Matteo was the man to implement his vision of seeing 'Barcelona in blue shirts', despite rewarding the Champions League triumph with a two-year contract.
That deal had a clause allowing both parties to review the arrangement next summer and it was unclear on Wednesday whether Di Matteo was entitled to be paid for the remainder of the agreement if he failed to find work in the next 18 months.
Chelsea will almost certainly stop paying him the moment he does join a new club, which is unlikely to take too long for a man with his new-found pedigree.
He could be followed by assistant Eddie Newton who, as of Wednesday afternoon, was still in a job.