Maurizio Sarri’s decision to drop goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was vindicated by Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Tottenham which strengthens his position as head coach.
Heavy defeats to Bournemouth and Arsenal, coupled with the Blues fans’ vitriolic abuse of Sarri’s methods, put the 60-year-old in a precarious predicament prior to Sunday’s Carabao Cup final with Manchester City.
The 4-3 penalty shootout loss was overshadowed by Kepa’s refusal to be substituted, resulting in the world’s most expensive goalkeeper dropping to the bench in Wednesday’s win over Tottenham.
Sarri reckons the performance was on the same level as the one at Wembley, downplaying the call to cull Kepa on a win secured by Pedro’s strike and a Kieran Trippier own goal.
“I think it was the right decision,” Sarri said.
“Kepa made a big mistake, he paid with the club and then he had to pay with the team. Now I think we have to stop. Kepa from tomorrow will be with us.”
Sarri does not expect the win to end questions over his future, but a favourable run of fixtures follows, beginning at Fulham on Sunday.
“I spoke with the club two, three times in the last days. The problem wasn’t so big,” Sarri said.
“It’s not a big problem for me. In this job you are under pressure every week, if you’re lucky every six months. It’s normal.
“If you lose two matches, three matches in a row you’re under pressure. I think it’s normal for every coach, maybe something more in Chelsea.”
Sarri insisted Kepa, a £71.6million buy from Athletic Bilbao last summer, remains his first choice, but he will share goalkeeping duties with Willy Caballero in the next two games, with Dynamo Kiev following the Craven Cottage trip.
Thanks for your support tonight. — Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) February 27, 2019
“I don’t know if in the next match he will be on the pitch or not. In one of the next two, for sure,” added Sarri, who now wishes to move on.
Sarri says Kepa discovered his demotion in the team meeting, while Caballero was untested as Tottenham’s troubles continued.
Spurs will be looking over their shoulders, Sarri says. They are third, seven points ahead of sixth-placed Chelsea, who have a game in hand.
“It was really very important tonight because we’re fighting for the top four,” Sarri said of the win.
“I don’t know but I think maybe with this result we could involve Tottenham in this fight. The gap is very large, seven points, but we have one match (in hand).”
Spurs next face Arsenal on Saturday after following up the Burnley loss with another at Chelsea which did not feature a shot on target.
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino had a simple answer for his side’s disappointing display at Chelsea.
“We didn’t shoot and I think we were not consistent enough,” he said.
Asked if he was concerned about Tottenham’s top-four place, with Arsenal four points behind in fourth and Manchester United a point further back, Pochettino said: “Why careful? I am not afraid. I have freedom in my mind. I have the same feeling as before.
“If people are scared now about the top four, that is football.
“After two defeats, maybe we’re not there and not content, but we need to keep going and try to be ready for the next game. But it’s not a drama.
“I don’t care about the pressure to play against Arsenal, Chelsea or Burnley. It’s the same feeling for me.
“We need to be ready to compete and give our best. If we win, I’ll be happy. If we don’t win, I’ll be as unhappy as I am now.”
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