Sarri slammed over Kepa but says issue settled

LONDON • Former Liverpool manager-turned-pundit Graeme Souness has blasted Maurizio Sarri's decision to recall Kepa Arrizabalaga but, as far as the Chelsea manager is concerned, the Spaniard has "paid the price" for his insubordination.

Kepa returned to Sarri's starting XI after being dropped for the previous game against Tottenham following his infamous refusal to be substituted in the League Cup final defeat by Manchester City.

While the Spain goalkeeper produced a fine display in the Blues' 2-1 Premier League win at Fulham on Sunday, Souness felt the Italian had sent out the wrong message to his squad by reinstating Kepa, insisting he should have "left him out of this game and beyond".

He told Sky Sports: "It was a sad reflection on where we are with the modern player. He's 24, done nothing in the game and feels he can challenge the manager like that."

However, Sarri insisted that Kepa had justified his selection by helping the team move to 56 points and within two of fourth spot in the race for Champions League football and the "situation was closed".

He told Sky: "We were trying to involve Tottenham in the (top-four) fight and now they are involved. Better two teams for four places than three for one place. He played very well, it was a normal decision (to bring him back). There wasn't another way, but Kepa is a man. He understood and reacted really very well. He made a mistake, but now that is enough."

Kepa played his part at Craven Cottage, keeping out efforts from Aleksandar Mitrovic, Tom Cairney and Joe Bryan as his side recorded a second straight league win courtesy of goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Jorginho.

Sarri was especially delighted for the latter, who has borne the brunt of criticism from Chelsea fans for being an underwhelming presence in midfield and having not previously found the net from open play.

He added: "My opinion about Jorginho is the same. He is a great player, one of the most important in Europe in that position.

"He is not at his top level physically, but could have scored three times today. In a couple of weeks, he will be at his top."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2019, with the headline 'Sarri slammed over Kepa but says issue settled'. Print Edition | Subscribe