Antonio Conte has not picked Mikel in a matchday squad and having been first choice under just six months ago, the Nigerian is now as low as sixth or seventh in his midfield pecking order.
John Mikel Obi has been with Chelsea for 11 years but could be on his way out of the club at the end of the season
Mikel was a key player last season under Guus Hiddink, but hasn't featured this season
The midfielder is as low as seventh choice in midfield under new boss Antonio Conte
It is fast becoming an inevitability that 2017 will be the last of Mikel’s 11 years at Chelsea with his contract up in the summer.
Sources close to the player have told Sportsmail that the two-time Premier League title winner will walk out at the end of the season with no shame if this proves to be the end.
No new negotiations have been scheduled and it would take a significant turnaround for an extended stay to come to fruition.
Mikel continues to work with Conte’s first-team squad looking to win back a place but a late start to the season and difficulties with minor injuries have curtailed him.
Fitness has been a problem in that sense, while Mikel is not seen as quick or energetic enough to perform to the same level as Ngolo Kante or Nemanja Matic in terms of the requirements of the way the Blues’ midfield works.
Mikel joined Chelsea in 2006 after a controversial transfer from Norwegian side Lyn Oslo
The Nigerian has won 11 trophies with the Blues, including the Champions League in 2012.
Now, even the likes of previously-overlooked academy product Nathaniel Chalobah have been catapulted above Mikel in Conte’s thoughts.
He has not even appeared on the bench in the EFL Cup — a competition the new manager used to spread game-time around his squad before their exit at the hands of West Ham.
Those close to Mikel concede his lack of minutes on the pitch is likely to force him towards the door.
He arrived in west London after a controversial transfer wrangle with Man Utd
Mikel has made more than 350 appearances for Chelsea since arriving in west London
It is a drastic fall since Guus Hiddink championed Mikel as his leading holding midfielder towards the end of last season. He started 11 of Chelsea’s final 12 games of the run-in.
Conte, adopting a blank slate approach in pre-season, started Mikel in his first game against Rapid Vienna but Chelsea were overrun in midfield and he was withdrawn after 58 minutes.
He played five minutes four days later against RZ Pellets and then scored — a rare occurrence — while completing 90 minutes in a behind-closed-doors friendly against local Austrian team Atus Ferlach.
JOHN MIKEL OBI: CHELSEA CAREER IN NUMBERS
Signed for Chelsea: 2006
Debut: Liverpool, Community Shield, 2006
Honours: 11 - FA Cup x 4, Champions League, Europa League, Premier League x 2, League Cup x 2, Community Shield
But then came the Olympics. Mikel was called to captain Nigeria in Brazil and led his country to bronze. He had Conte’s blessing.
And the lack of presence on Chelsea’s tour of the United States and back in London knocked Mikel back in Conte’s thinking. Work was needed to adapt to the manager’s methods on his return.
With Chelsea’s fixture calendar far less congested this year due to an absence of European football, there are not many opportunities for fringe members of the squad.
Michy Batshuayi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have found that out with limited minutes offered up, but at 23 and 20 respectively, they have youth on their side. Mikel does not.
He has also had injury problems at key times when routes back towards the first team could have opened up.
‘There are players who are towards the end of their contract, and they and the club together take a decision on their futures,’ Conte said last week.
Conte recently praised the midfielder's efforts in training, but his first team chances are slim
The 29-year-old missed most of pre-season to participate in the Olympics with Nigeria
‘Mikel is working very well now. In the past he's sometimes had some injuries. But now he's working very hard, and I'm pleased with his work-rate.’
The pair have not discussed the contract situation, although Mikel is settled in London with his girlfriend and children and may look to stay in the Premier League if he does leave.
Mikel is currently on international duty in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, where he joins team-mate Victor Moses ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Algeria to come on Saturday.
Conte is more willing to use youngster Nathan Chalobah than Mikel, who could now leave
He has continued to play for his country during international breaks.
Mikel’s commendable outlook remains one of fighting for a return while remembering past successes but, after 368 appearances and 10 major trophies including the Champions League, his time at Stamford Bridge looks to be at the beginning of the end.
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