Maurizio Sarri defended his decision to recall rebel Kepa Arrizabalaga following the Chelsea goalkeeper’s heroic display at Craven Cottage.
Having been dropped for the midweek win over Tottenham after refusing to be substituted in last Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final against Manchester City, the Spaniard was back in the Blues starting XI against Fulham. Sarri’s decision was questioned on Sunday, with both Graeme Souness and David Moyes stating they’d have kept Arrizabalaga out for longer if they were in charge. But the goalkeeper repaid Sarri’s decision by producing a string of excellent displays as Chelsea claimed west London bragging rights.
And Sarri said: ‘There was only one other way; to put him out of the squad for the rest of the season. But Kepa is a man and understood, and reacted very well today. I could kill him, but I think this was right. I spoke with him and he understood. His behaviour during the week was really very good. His reaction today was really very good. I know very well the man. He made a mistake. Now is enough.’
A collective of Blues players explained to Arrizabalaga’s that his actions were ‘unnecessary’ at the training ground last week, though there is a feeling within the squad that a line has been drawn under the controversy. Yet, Sarri has indicated Arrizabalaga may have been afforded special treatment following the controversy. As Sportsmail highlighted last week, Chelsea have been at pains to avoid a repeat of the infamous conflict between Antonio Conte and Diego Costa, particularly given Arrizabalaga £72million price-tag.
And when asked whether he considered axing Arrizabalaga for the rest of the season, Sarri answered: ‘Considering the man, no. Because I know him very well. ‘But, with another man, yes of course. I could have done it in another way… With him, I know him very well and know very well it wasn’t the right solution.’ Meanwhile, in caretaker manager Scott Parker’s first game in charge Fulham produced a promising display more in line with the club’s widely-recognised philosophy of playing attractive football.
Under Claudio Ranieri, the Cottagers moved towards a more pragmatic style of play. But Parker said: ‘We want to reclaim our identity, 100 per cent. For me, that’s totally it. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. If someone told me something else from above, I’d tell them I’m not their guy. ‘There is a brand and identity to Fulham that everyone understood. I don’t think we are (there). I wanted to bring the fans back, and I feel like I did that today.’