Maurizio Sarri does not blame Cesar Azpilicueta or any of his other Chelsea players for failing to intervene as Kepa Arrizabalaga sensationally refused to be substituted in the EFL Cup final.
Kepa was treated twice for apparent cramp towards the end of extra-time in the Wembley showpiece against Manchester City, with Sarri readying Willy Caballero to replace his number one ahead of a penalty shoot-out.
However, in a remarkable act of defiance, Kepa refused to come off, leaving an angered Sarri to storm away from the touchline before quickly returning, while a confused Caballero walked back to the bench.
Both Sarri and Kepa described the situation as a “misunderstanding” after Chelsea were beaten on penalties, although the Spain goalkeeper was nevertheless fined a week’s wages by the club on Monday.
In a news conference on Tuesday, Sarri was asked whether Azpilicueta, who was captain against City, and other senior members of the Chelsea squad should have stepped in to defuse the situation and tell Kepa to respect the coach’s decision.
Sarri replied: “The captain spoke to me immediately after the match. Then he spoke with Kepa.
“Yesterday we spoke all together. The situation is really very clear in the dressing room.”
When it was suggested that club legends like John Terry and Frank Lampard would have taken control had they been on the field, Sarri said: “It was really a very unusual situation, so I think the players were really very shocked.
“It was impossible to react immediately, I think. Like on the bench.”
— kepa Arrizabalaga (@kepa_46) February 24, 2019
One player not involved on Sunday was the out-of-form Marcos Alonso, but Sarri explained his omission from the squad, adding: “I didn’t want another left-back on the bench. At the moment Emerson [Palmieri] is doing very well so I have to use him.”
Chelsea’s next game, on Wednesday, sees them host Tottenham, the club who ended their unbeaten start to the Premier League season with a 3-1 win in the reverse fixture at Wembley.
Since then, the Blues’ title challenge has completely unravelled and they are three points outside the top four, albeit having played a game less than Arsenal.
Asked to explain Chelsea’s dip in form, Sarri said: “At the beginning we had more enthusiasm I think, to remedy mistakes.
“Then we played without enthusiasm for a period, maybe we were only tired.
“Of course, in the defensive movement we are better now, if we don’t stop to defend. Against City [earlier in February] we stopped to defend [in a 6-0 league defeat].
“Now we are improving in the defensive phase and in the last two matches. I think we are able to have a great solidity in the defensive phase.”
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