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 By Mark Worrall

Antonio Conte losing support of Chelsea fans after Man City no-show

The FC crew blast Antonio Conte for his negative tactics in Chelsea's drab defeat at Manchester City.
The FC crew blast Antonio Conte for his negative tactics in Chelsea's drab defeat at Manchester City.

Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at Manchester City saw them slip further adrift of an all-important top-four berth that will guarantee Champions League football next season.

With nine league games remaining, it's not inconceivable the Blues in fifth could reel in rivals Tottenham, who are five points better off in fourth and have had a habit of folding under pressure in recent seasons. However, form suggests that if things continue as they are the margin between the clubs could widen in Spurs' favour.

To underline this, if the Premier League had started on Jan.1, Spurs would be top. Chelsea, meanwhile, would be languishing all the way down in twelfth.

Carrying the can for the spectacular slump is Antonio Conte, whose negative park-the-bus, damage limitation tactics against City brought swathes of damning criticism. Supporters joined pundits in rounding on the Italian, who had previously retained sufficient support for chants of "Antonio, Antonio" to drown out any dissenting voices.

That Conte had remained in favour with Chelsea's match-going fraternity for so long owes much to the sparkling way he guided them to the Premier League last season. There's also the perception he hasn't been backed sufficiently by the board in the transfer market.

It's a familiar tale of woe that mirrors in many ways the demise of previous Roman Abramovich-era managers, most recently Jose Mourinho who was sacked six months after winning the title in 2015. Mourinho's abrupt dismissal brought with it protests from Chelsea fans. However, sympathy for Conte -- who signed a new two-year deal reported to be worth £19.2 million last July -- has rapidly waned.

Last month, Conte defiantly said it was his "intention, will and desire" to see out his contract. Such ambition should have been reflected by his players, but the harsh reality is that by and large Chelsea's performances have been the antithesis of this.

Antonio Conte's future at Chelsea is in considerable doubt.

Right now, it seems inconceivable Conte will still be in charge beyond the end of this season. Indeed, were it not for the fact the Blues are still in the Champions League and FA Cup, the Italian might have been fired after the abject defeat by City.

It's almost 15 years since Abramovich bought Chelsea. The Russian's investment has yielded five Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, the Champions League and Europa League. It's a peerless tally over the period which at face value vindicates the scattergun approach to hiring and firing managers.

But whether or not this irrational and expensive methodology is sustainable remains to be seen. Chelsea are no longer the only club whose fortunes have been turbo-charged by foreign investment. And they have been overtaken in terms of stadium redevelopment by the clubs ahead of them in the table: City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs.

While Chelsea supporters contemplate a raft of uncertainties, Conte is quite probably thinking about his next job. It doesn't augur well for the Blues, who entertain bogey side Crystal Palace this weekend in the Premier League and then travel to Catalonia for a decisive Champions League round-of-16 second leg with Barcelona before calling in at the King Power to play Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinals.

Part of Chelsea's appeal to their fans is the long-standing ability of the club to turn adversity into triumph and it's that strand of their DNA which will have them hoping that maybe, just maybe, a triumph replicating the Champions League and FA Cup glory of 2012 can be engineered once more.

Never say never, but with Conte in this frame of mind in charge of a team that lacks the spirit of the John Terry / Frank Lampard era, it seems an improbable dream.

Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco

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