Chelsea are currently in the midst of a run of form which has seen them win just two of their last five Premier League fixtures, leading to the club dropping to fourth place—the last of the qualification spots for next season's UEFA Champions League.
With plenty of the top sides still to play this season, there is now a very real possibility that last season's winners of the Champions League might not even qualify for the tournament for 2013-14—and this after exiting at the group stage this time around in the defence of their title.
Chief executive Ron Gourlay has spoken of the huge importance of the club qualifying for the top continental competition next season, and beyond (via BBC):
Achieving one of the Champions League qualification slots is very important to this football club. It is important we remain focused on the job in hand, which is qualifying for the Champions League, and then at the end of the season we will sit down, have a look at the situation and determine how we go forward. Our whole philosophy is based on success on the football field, and we have been doing everything in our power to ensure one of these slots.
With a five-point buffer over fifth-place Arsenal at present, there is no imminent danger of Chelsea dropping even further, but a failure to finish in the top four could have serious repercussions, not the least of which could affect the playing staff.
Here are some of the biggest names at the club who could make a summer exit if the blues don't manage to finish in the top four.
Chelsea's standout player of the season, Juan Mata, has made a year-on-year progression since moving from the Mestalla to Stamford Bridge.
He has scored 10 goals and added nine assists in the league this season, and he's arguably now Chelsea's most valuable player, both in terms of his abilities on the pitch and his transfer-market worth.
At 24 years of age, he is moving toward the best years of his career, given the type of player he is, and he will not likely hang around for long if Chelsea cannot offer him Champions League football.
Make no mistake, there will be no shortage of takers if Mata decides he wants to move to a club that can offer that same incentive.
Is Fernando Torres done? We still don't know.
Flashes of the old ability are there, but Demba Ba has seemingly taken his place in the league version of the team for now, and Torres looks a world away from a £50 million striker.
Regardless of Chelsea's final league position, the forward might be well served in moving on to pastures anew this summer anyway, but a failure to qualify for the Champions League would almost certainly mean that he leaves.
He might not have had the impact the fans and club wanted from him, but Torres leaving would signify that the club's record buy was a major failure.
Powerful midfielder Ramires has been in and out of the Chelsea team this season due to injury and tactical changes, but he remains capable of being a top central player for any team.
Ramires has spent time in Portugal with Benfica before moving to Chelsea, and there would likely be a queue of teams from Italy, Spain and Germany who would love the chance to sign him—and possibly even some from Russia.
With Chelsea likely to lose Frank Lampard this summer—or rather, let him leave—it would mean a complete overhaul of their midfield if they lost Ramires too.
Marauding centre-back and part-time defensive midfielder David Luiz is not even a guaranteed starter for Chelsea, but his innate qualities and playing style mean he will certainly be in demand should he choose to leave for a more ambitious side.
David Luiz is the youngest of Chelsea's quartet of central defenders by some distance, and his loss would mean yet another area where they not only had to replace, but rebuild in, with John Terry approaching the latter stages of his career.
Luiz is not always the most conscientious of defenders, but he certainly brings a different aspect to the Chelsea team on the ball, and their squad would be poorer without him.
Could the heady days of free spending and hire-em-fire-em approaches to managerial candidates be coming to an end?
Roman Abramovich has been remarkably diligent about his investments—both in terms of time and money—to Chelsea since taking over ownership in 2003, but the club remains more of an interest than a calling for him.
Having won the Premier League, and last season the Champions League, is the motivation still there for Abramovich to provide his backing on a long-term scale?
Being in the premier competition every year is one thing, but a failure to even qualify for it means a minimum wait of two years for another crack at the title.
Chelsea fans and staff alike will have to hope the big boss has the patience to wait that long if they fail to finish in the top four this season, or it could be a case of far more than just four big-name players leaving the club.