LONDON - Fernando Torres could become Chelsea's fall guy after a poor run of form has suddenly turned the heat on manager Roberto Di Matteo just weeks after the Italian could seemingly do no wrong.
Di Matteo's stock could hardly have been higher in the early weeks of the season as the European champions won seven and drew one of their opening eight Premier League games.
The midfield trio of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata were combining in eye-catching fashion and even the much-maligned Torres looked something like his old self, having struggled to justify his 50 million pounds ($79.23 million)price tag since joining the Blues.
However, a 3-2 home defeat by Manchester United at the end of October, in which Torres was given a red card for diving, and captain John Terry's four-game ban for racial abuse and a subsequent knee injury has coincided with a dip.
Chelsea have gone four Premier League games without victory, slipping to third in the table after Saturday's 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion and now face a crucial away trip to Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Defeat at the Serie A side would leave their hopes of reaching the last 16 in the balance and Di Matteo could opt for a more defensive line-up, with Torres's position under threat.
The former Liverpool striker has managed just one goal in his last seven matches for Chelsea and Di Matteo hinted that the Spaniard may have to be sacrificed against Juventus.
"I think we have to access the whole team and see how everybody is and how they have recovered.
"We will see assess them and see what the right selection is for Tuesday. (But) if I believe it the right thing to do for the team, then yeah," Di Matteo told reporters when asked to discuss whether he would leave Torres out in Turin.
British newspapers carried reports of disharmony in the Chelsea ranks on Monday, with defender David Luiz admitting tempers had been frayed in the dressing room after the defeat to West Bromwich Albion.
"At the moment it's not good," the 25-year-old was quoted on Chelsea's website (www.chelseafc.com).
"We started the season at the top of the league, but we've now lost another game, although it was against a good team.
"But it's disappointing, Chelsea want to be at the top of the table always, so we need to work hard before the next game."
Di Matteo was made caretaker manager in March after Andre Villas-Boas was sacked and led Chelsea to Champions League glory, beating Bayern Munich to claim the trophy for the first time in the club's history.
A few weeks later he was give the job on a permanent basis on a two-year contract but has become used to speculation linking several big names to the Chelsea job.
With Juventus away on Tuesday and then league leaders Manchester City at home on Saturday, Di Matteo's side have an important week.
"Maybe it is the time when we might have to change in terms of our selection and the way we play, looking at the set-up of the team and sacrifice a little bit the attacking options to go a bit more defensive," Di Matteo said.
"We had a lot of joy with the way we have been playing and long-term that is the way we want to go but we need a couple of positive result to get our confidence high again.
"We have two massive games but we have players with a lot of experience and we have been in this position before."
($1 = 0.6311 British pounds) (Editing by Alison Wildey)