Maurizio Sarri insists the farcical spectacle of him failing to substitute Kepa Arrizabalaga in the EFL Cup final has brought his Chelsea squad closer together
A seemingly injured Kepa refused to make way for Willy Caballero towards the end of extra-time during last Sunday’s goalless draw, 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 Wednesday’s 2-0 Premier League win at home to top-four rivals Tottenham.
Sarri, who described the incident as a “misunderstanding”, has indicated Kepa will return to the starting line-up in one of Chelsea’s next two games, away to Fulham in the Premier League on Sunday or against Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League four days later.
Chelsea were reportedly considering sacking Sarri after a run of terrible results away from home but three consecutive clean sheets in all competitions have eased the pressure on the 60-year-old Italian.
And he feels Kepa’s public show of defiance might have had an overall positive impact on the dressing room.
“When there is a difficult situation, I think it’s very difficult for everybody,” Sarri told a news conference.
“But it’s a big opportunity, also. You have to take that opportunity. Of course, it was really a very bad experience, but I think we can come out of this situation better than before.
“When there is a very difficult experience you can come out always different than before: better or worse. I think that, from this situation, we came out better.
“Because, for the players, I think it was an experience useful for staying more united. Also for me, with my staff and players. We are more compact.”
— kepa Arrizabalaga (@kepa_46) February 24, 2019
Sarri appeared to be considering storming out of Wembley as Kepa refused to come off, but he returned to the sidelines after regaining his cool.
“I needed only 30 seconds to return in my mind, no more,” he explained. “But I am really very happy with the last three matches because we had good performances.
“And also with the results. We lost a final only on penalties, but we played really a very good match. For our confidence, it was important to play at the same level against City after the match in the Premier League [a 6-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium].
“I was really happy with the last three matches. We still need consistency and still to continue, especially with the performances. The results are only a consequence – sometimes not, but in 95 per cent of cases.
“I didn’t want to go out [of the stadium]. I wanted only to return, to return in my mind.”
— Marcos Alonso (@marcosalonso03) February 28, 2019
Marcos Alonso was in fine form against Spurs, the defender having lost his place to Emerson Palmieri for the final, and Sarri defended the left-back.
“As I said in the last press conference before the match, you have to accept that a player cannot stay at the top of his physical condition and mental condition for 11 months,” he added.
“So we were lucky because, in that period, we had a very good moment for Emerson. And now I think Marcos started to return to his best. But, in 11 months, you have to accept one or two months of difficulty.”
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