The door may have slammed shut on Chelsea youngsters like Nathaniel Chalobah for this season after Wednesday’s EFL Cup setback at West Ham.
And the future for Chelsea legend John Terry is also looking bleak after a chaotic night in East London.
The Blues were beaten 2-1 at the London Stadium as their new three-man defensive system was exposed for the first time by a vibrant West Ham, who scored through Cheikhou Kouyate and Edmilson Fernandes.
Gary Cahill pulled a goal back for Antonio Conte’s side in the final minute, but the scoreline flattered the Stamford Bridge side.
Conte made seven changes from the team which had swept aside Manchester United on Sunday, with Terry making a comeback after six weeks out, and youngsters Chalobah and Ola Aina both starting.
The changes did not work, and Terry was given a torrid time as his lack of pace was exposed time and again. Aina had a difficult night too.
Chelsea are now left with only the league and the FA Cup to go for this season, and Conte said: “This cup was very important to check the development of these young players. We have good young players, and they need to play. So I am disappointed that we can’t play in this competition now.”
“It shows I can get my chance. People forget that Chelsea is a very big club and they have world-class players.
“For young players coming through, it is always going to be difficult. But it is down to the coaching staff to see how well we do in training and down to the player, how much belief they have in themselves to keep pushing every day.
“It is a question of right place, right time. But you have always got to keep your mentality the same and always try and work to improve yourself. You never know what might happen. Just don’t give up, keep going.
“If it doesn’t work at Chelsea, it will maybe work somewhere else. But you have to keep striving.
“Right now there is no better example than the two midfielders who are starting every week. The likes of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic, you learn from them every day in training.”
Chelsea face a resurgent Southampton at St Mary’s in their next League game on Sunday and Terry, now 35, is likely to be back on the bench, with Diego Costa and Eden Hazard almost certainly returning to the line-up.
Nigerian international Mikel, 29, Mikel is still waiting for his first competitive appearance this season under new manager Antonio Conte.
A source close to Mikel said: “Talks were held between Mikel and the manager. As for now he has been told he can leave in January. His contract is set to expire in the summer.”