As Chelsea face an uncertain future, one thing seems increasingly likely: defensive Antonio Rudiger will be on the way this summer.
The 29-year-old German centre-back already looked destined for an end-of-season exit from Stamford Bridge.
But with the Blues currently banned from offering new contracts, the situation could be totally out of their control.
How will Thomas Tuchel’s team manage without one of their best backs? And where could Rudiger go next?
Ahead of tonight’s FA Cup quarter-final against Middlesbrough, we assess the state of the game.
The story so far
Rudiger joined Chelsea from Roma in the summer of 2017 and helped them lift the FA Cup in their debut campaign.
But last season was arguably the most memorable at Stamford Bridge.
Fallen out of favor under Frank Lampard, the Berliner became indispensable as a replacement for coach Tuchel – playing a key role as his fellow German led the Blues to a second Champions League triumph.
However, a contract extension did not materialise, with the player and the club apparently at an impasse over the terms offered.
Rudiger had insisted he was happy at Chelsea last month, although the west Londoners have been in disarray ever since.
An unforgettable year
Speaking in February, Rudiger described his first 12 months playing for Tuchel as arguably the best period of his career.
He said: “I’m proud of my whole career, but what happened last year is incredible.
“It’s one thing when you feel good, when everything is in place and the team is performing.
“But I think I showed who I was when times were tough and that’s what matters most to me. In the good times, everyone shines, everyone is good, so he doesn’t is not necessary to say anything.
“I think a career is made up of chapters. When you’re young it’s a different chapter. But that chapter, yes, it’s one of the best footballs I’ve played.”
The 6ft 3in defender appears to be pulling as much from Tuchel as the German strategist does from him.
From a sentimental point of view, if nothing else, it would be a real shame if the couple had to separate.
A big loss
There’s no denying that losing Rudiger would leave a hole in Chelsea’s defense – and not just because of his immense physical presence.
They will lack the leadership skills of the 49-man international to start with.
He can be a bit overzealous at times – but the unmistakable sight of Rudiger furious in a ball fight is a clear mark of the passion with which he plays the game.
The Blues look more robust with Rudiger on their side and the data seems to back that up.
Since joining, they have averaged 1.9 points per Premier League game when he started, compared to 1.7 when he didn’t.
They also conceded just 0.9 goals per game when he was playing compared to 1.3 in his absence.
So who could step into Rudiger’s shoes next season?
Considering Chelsea are also set to lose Andreas Christensen and captain Cesar Azpilicueta for nothing, Tuchel will be short of centre-backs.
And if the Blues are still operating under restrictions when the summer transfer window closes, Rudiger’s successor will have to come from within.
Trevoh Chalobah is having an exceptional season, while Malang Sarr has also played regularly during this period. Then there’s Ethan Ampadu, who is currently on loan at Serie A Venezia.
However, all three would represent a demotion to Rudiger in varying degrees.
Assuming the situation remains as it is, Chelsea will be noticeably weaker with the departure of the number 2.
What is the next step?
As a free agent under 30, Rudiger should have no shortage of suitors.
Bayern Munich are out of the running to sign the ex-Stuttgart striker, but Real Madrid, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain are linked – the latter reportedly made a pre-contract offer in January.
And what about potential Premier League interest?
Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick is believed to be a big admirer of his compatriot and the Red Devils could do with beefing up their backline.
The first big move of his upcoming consultancy role, perhaps? What a kick in the teeth that would be for Chelsea.