Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has suspended new contract talks until the end of the season. The Times says Abramovich is adamant that Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Deco must prove they deserve new deals by playing an influential role in bringing silverware to the club as Chelsea chase the first league and FA Cup Double in their history over the next month.

The Russian's stance has raised the prospect of the three players leaving on free transfers when their contracts expire in June.

Sources close to the Russian claim that he remains angry at the meek manner of their exit to Inter Milan in the first knockout round - particularly the embarrassment of being beaten by a team coached by José Mourinho, their former manager - and is determined to send a strong message to his players that such lacklustre performances will not be tolerated.