Whether or not Roman Abramovich committed to ‘the project’ of re-building Chelsea’s ageing team when he recruited Andre Villas-Boas it was inevitable that the Russian billionaire with a reputation for losing patience would revert to form and sack his struggling manager because disaster is looming at the Bridge.

There is no escaping the fact that the 34-year-old Portuguese found the manager’s chair too hot to handle. And the harsh reality is that Chelsea are not only in danger of finishing the season without a trophy but the real fear is that the Blues will fail to qualify for the Champions League.

Just three wins in 12 matches is a crisis for a club that expects to win at least one trophy every season and qualify for Europe’s premier competition. The reality is that the Blues are in real danger of missing out on all fronts and failure to finish in the top four will be a disaster on a scale Abramovich has not yet experienced in his nine years as owner.

What became clear over the last few days is that AVB was looking and sounding like of a man out of his depth who has lost confidence in his ability and was being battered into submission by a hostile media and senior players who clearly did not respect him. Contrast the relationship between Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Villas-Boas with that between Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

As former Manchester United skipper Gary Neville highlighted recently, experienced players in the twilight of their careers at Old Trafford know just how valuable they are to the team and the manager is the master at squeezing out the best from heroes who will give everything for the boss.

At Chelsea there was no chance of that happening under AVB and Abramovich faced a decision that could turn out to be the end of his love affair with the club if he has got it wrong.

Speaking after the 3-1 defeat at Napoli and before yesterday’s defeat by West Brom which leaves Chelsea 20 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City, Villas-Boas admitted his own uncertainty when he said: ‘I think I have felt the confidence from Abramovich but the pattern of behaviour of the owner has led to a downfall (of coaches) in similar or even better situations.

‘What will be the reaction? It will be one of the two, a continuation of the project and full support or just the cultural pattern that has happened before. We don’t know.’

Now we do know that AVB was a dead man walking.  Roberto Di Matteo has been appointed caretaker manager and will be in charge for the FA Cup replay at Birmingham on Tuesday. But turning things round is a tall order for the ex-Chelsea star whose last job in management ironically ended in the sack at West Brom.

Abramovich has decided he could not risk Chelsea experiencing a slow death to the AVB Project. But it will be just as painful under Di Matteo if Chelsea fail to finish in the top four.