LONDON • Maurizio Sarri faces another angry vote of no confidence from frustrated Chelsea fans if he fails to spark his stuttering side in today's Premier League home clash with Brighton.
The Blues manager was subjected to vitriolic abuse and chants of "You don't know what you're doing" from the away supporters at Cardiff on Sunday in response to a listless display that was just six minutes away from becoming the nadir of a troubled debut season.
Although two late goals in the 2-1 win gave Sarri breathing space, keeping alive Chelsea's top-four hopes, it did little to quell the feeling that the under-fire Italian is on borrowed time at Stamford Bridge.
Reflecting the pattern of a term that has been one step forward, two steps back, Chelsea have been turgid of late in the league, showing little cutting edge despite posting high numbers in possession.
A repeat against relegation-threatened Brighton will certainly bring more opprobrium for Sarri, who has already suffered several nights of boos at home this term.
However, with seven matches left, defender Cesar Azpilicueta feels it is up to the players to "create a good atmosphere on the pitch".
He said: "We have to look at ourselves and, if we want to achieve our targets, we have to improve.
"On Wednesday, from the first minute, I know the fans will be behind us.
"We have to give them what they want - fighting spirit, great football, and scoring goals. That's what we both want and we have to pull in the same direction."
While Sarri has taken most of the flak, Gonzalo Higuain has also not escaped criticism over his lacklustre form, with just three goals in 11 appearances in all competitions since joining from AC Milan in January.
Such was Chelsea's confidence that the former Argentina striker would be able to flourish as the main man up front that Alvaro Morata was allowed to leave for Atletico Madrid on a loan deal.
But Sarri has since admitted Higuain, who has scored against only the bottom two clubs in the league, is struggling to "get used to this championship".
Pundit Craig Burley has, however, given short shrift to the maxim that it takes time to adapt to the physicality of English football.
The former Chelsea midfielder told ESPN: "He knows Higuain very well from Italy and he has had a good six months to suss out how football is played over here.
"By the way, it isn't chalk and cheese, it might be a little quicker, but it isn't that much different.
"He is just not playing well and he is in a team that is not playing well.
"If Chelsea do get in the top four or win the Europa League, then it is going to paper over the cracks of the deficiencies of this manager for the long term."
CHELSEA V BRIGHTON
Singtel TV Ch104 & StarHub Ch229, tomorrow, 2.35am