LONDON - Embattled Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho faces the greatest crisis of his stellar career, with British media reports claiming that he could be days away from losing his job.
With the defending champions 15th and floundering in the Premier League, fresh misery arrived on Tuesday when they had their League Cup crown prised from their fingers in a penalty shootout defeat at Stoke City.
It prompted the latest in a flood of damning headlines, with Wednesday's edition of The Sun splashing that Mourinho was "clinging to his job by a thread", his two-year tenure "all but over".
The Daily Mirror, meanwhile, reported that some senior players believe it is "only a matter of time before Mourinho departs", echoing recent claims that his combative methods have alienated members of his squad.
While the broadsheet newspapers were more circumspect, the tone was similar. The Daily Telegraph said he was "fighting for his future", The Guardian that his future was "up in the air".
Once again, Mourinho seems to be succumbing to the curse of 'third season syndrome', which has dogged him throughout his career.
Though unparallelled in his ability to quickly forge winning teams, Mourinho has never worked at a club for four full seasons, as results invariably slope off after his second campaign.
He angrily dismissed the theory when it was put to him recently - "click Google instead of asking stupid questions" - but Chelsea's current woes are bearing it out more starkly than any of his previous experiences.
When Mourinho last left Chelsea, in September 2007, it was because his relationship with owner Roman Abramovich had broken down and although he was recently given a public vote of confidence, there are suggestions that his abrasive antics may have upset the club hierarchy.
However, a lack of available alternatives could buy him precious time.
Abramovich seems no closer to his dream of luring Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola to west London, while Carlo Ancelotti is said to be reluctant about returning following his abrupt sacking by the Russian in 2011.
Guus Hiddink performed a successful rescue mission at Chelsea in 2009, but his stock has fallen after his recent travails with the Netherlands.
In the meantime, Mourinho continues to enjoy the public support of both Chelsea's players and their fans, who pointedly chanted his name throughout Tuesday's match at Stoke.
Mourinho wore a more relaxed demeanour than of late at the Britannia Stadium, waving to supporters, smiling through his press conference and reserving his ire for the media's "stupid" criticism of his team.
He claimed that Chelsea's display proved his players were still behind him and while they have won only one of their last seven games, the intensity in their play has returned.
They created a glut of chances against Stoke and largely dominated last week's 0-0 draw at Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, twice hitting the woodwork and having a strong penalty appeal rejected.
And while Saturday's 2-1 defeat at West Ham United was their fifth of the league campaign, Slaven Bilic's side have also accounted for Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City this season.
"It's important for him to stay and we don't want to give up," striker Loic Remy told the London Evening Standard newspaper.
"We were champions together only last season and he is a really great manager. Of course I don't want him to leave. I think all the players don't want that." Chelsea great Frank Lampard has also offered support, saying: "With Jose Mourinho in charge, the squad they've got, the talent they've got on the pitch and the club that Chelsea is now, I don't see anyway that they won't turn it around." Jurgen Klopp visits the Bridge on Saturday, his appointment as Liverpool manager having recalled the love-in that greeted Mourinho's arrival in England in 2004.
Eleven years on, the Portuguese remains the biggest story in town, only now it is for all the wrong reasons.