Chelsea are holding talks with representatives of Italy coach Antonio Conte over the prospect of becoming the club's next permanent manager, sources have told ESPN FC.
Conte, who won three successive Serie A titles with Juventus before taking the Italy job in 2014, has a contract until the end of this summer's European Championship and is due to meet with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss his future in the coming weeks.
The 46-year-old Conte was on Chelsea's shortlist of managerial targets and sources have told ESPN FC that he has now moved ahead of current Juve coach Masimiliano Allegri, Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone, former Chile manager Jorge Sampaoli and Tottenham Hotspur head coach Mauricio Pochettino to become front-runner for the position.
Earlier this month, Juventus general director Giuseppe Marotta played down speculation of Allegri leaving to take the Chelsea job, and on Tuesday the Italian's agent, Giovanni Branchini, insisted his client is happy with the Serie A champions.
La Gazzetta dello Sport reported on Tuesday that a deal had already been struck in principle between Chelsea and Conte, with Blues owner Roman Abramovich set to take a final decision on Jose Mourinho's permanent successor next month.
Tuttomercatoweb also reported that an agreement in principle exists, and said the situation would be assessed further in April. Conte is said to have agreed a two-year contract worth €16 million.
The Daily Mail said that Conte held talks with Abramovich at a meeting in Monaco brokered by Federico Pastorello, the Italian agent responsible for bringing Gianfranco Zola and Carlo Cudicini to Stamford Bridge.
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The Times reported that Chelsea officials were unwilling to comment on the claims there was an agreement in principle but said two representatives had approached the Premier League champions to notify them of Conte's interest in the job. The report added that Chelsea are increasingly confident he can be persuaded to sign a contract before the European Championship.
Conte and Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo travelled separately to watch Juventus take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League round of 16 in Turin on Tuesday night, and the Italy coach is also reportedly taking English lessons in preparation for life in the Premier League next season.
Both The Times and the Mail report that Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone is no longer in the running for the job, though The Guardian has said that Chelsea chief executive Marina Granovskaia has also held talks with the Argentine and Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri in recent weeks.
Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink is not expected to be considered as a permanent candidate for the role, despite Oscar and John Obi Mikel both indicating in recent days that they were hopeful he may stay on.
On Monday, sources told ESPN FC that Juventus have identified outgoing Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini as their preferred choice to replace Allegri if he decides to join Chelsea this summer.
ESPN FC correspondent Miguel Delaney contributed to this report