Maurizio Sarri believes the fallout from Kepa Arrizabalaga’s substitution fiasco has made Chelsea a stronger team.
A seemingly injured Kepa refused to make way for Willy Caballero towards the end of extra-time during the EFL Cup final on February 24, with Manchester City subsequently retaining their title on penalties.
The goalkeeper issued a public apology and was fined a week’s wages by the club before being dropped by Sarri for Chelsea’s 2-0 Premier League win at home to top-four rivals Tottenham.
Kepa was recalled for another domestic win over Fulham last weekend before Chelsea made it three wins out of three with a resounding 3-0 triumph over Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League on Thursday.
Sarri believes his side have come out of the Kepa saga a more united outfit and wants them to maintain their fine recent form against Wolves at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
“For me, it was really important, the performance in the final against Manchester City, because two weeks before that we lost in Manchester [a 6-0 defeat],” Sarri said.
“But in two weeks the players were able to play at the same level as them, so it was really very important for our confidence, I think.
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“I think at the end, the Kepa situation was a good thing for our group. In the last five matches, we won four and drew against Manchester City. In five matches we conceded only one goal, so now we are improving in consistency and defensive solidity.
“But we have to be careful because in the past we had a long period of results and then, suddenly, two weeks of disaster.”
Chelsea sit sixth in the Premier League but are just two points behind fourth-place Manchester United with a game in hand and Sarri knows his side are well placed to make a return to the Champions League next season.
“I think that we have two big opportunities – this match and then when we will play the match against Brighton and Hove Albion [their game in hand],” Sarri said, as Arsenal and United prepare to face one another at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
“But I think we will be fighting for the top four until the last minute of the last match. Every match will be important in our future.”
Ruben Loftus-Cheek impressed during an EFL Cup final cameo but has not earned a start for Chelsea since, again coming off the bench against Kiev.
Sarri explained this limited use of the England midfielder was as a result of his recurrent back problems.
“In the last few weeks, it’s better,” he said. “He has played with continuity in the last few weeks. His condition is not at the top at the moment to play 90 minutes, which is why he wasn’t in the starting XI [against Kiev].
“I wanted Jorginho on the pitch for 50-55 minutes. I wanted [N’Golo] Kante on for 30-35 minutes. So I wasn’t able to choose him because he was another substitution. But only for this reason.
“At the moment, he’s not able to play for 90 minutes. His condition is improving. His back is better and better, so I think in two or three weeks he will be able to play for 90 minutes.”
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