The Chelsea boss wants to send a message to his squad that he’s still in charge – even though it could be his last game as manager. Kepa refused to come off when Sarri tried to replace him in extra-time of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final defeat by Manchester City. He was fined a week’s wages by the club and apologised to Sarri and his team-mates.
Having initially looked set to pick his rebel goalkeeper for a game Sarri knows he cannot afford to lose, the Italian yesterday admitted he wants to send a clear signal to his players. “I want to send a message to my group,” he said. “The message could be Kepa is on the pitch, or Kepa is out the pitch. I have to decide what is better for my group.”
“He made a mistake. A big mistake. There are some consequences. If the consequence is to play, he has to be ready to play. If the consequence is the bench, he has to be ready to go to the bench.” Sarri claimed that substitute keeper Willy Caballero’s knowledge of the penalty-taking habits of his former City team-mates was also part of his thinking behind attempting the late switch.
“Willy Caballero is a very good goalkeeper and he’s a great man,” he added. “He is a point of reference in the dressing room, of course, for his personality and for his behaviour. So I think that he has the maturity to be ready for everything.” Sarri’s stern words could merely be a charade designed just to fire a shot across the bows of the world’s most expensive keeper, a player the Italian knows he needs to keep Chelsea in the hunt for a Champions League spot.
“The goalkeeper is not a problem,” Sarri said. “He made a big mistake, but he is really a very nice boy. There is only one difficulty, the results. The problem now is to have results with consistency.” The toxic atmosphere at Stamford Bridge against Sarri in last week’s home defeat against Manchester United in the FA Cup adds to the pressure, and with the board monitoring developments closely through director Marina Granovskaia.
The axe could be swung if the Blues suffer another bad home defeat tonight. “I spoke with Marina this week, before the final, just for good luck,” Sarri said. “I spoke to Marina after the match about the Kepa situation. My relationship with the club is like before.”