Sarri slams Chelsea, who are at ‘mental limit’

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Maurizio Sarri‘s time at Chelsea seems increasingly likely to end this summer.

The Italian coach has been critical of his Chelsea team on several occasions this season, as he slammed them after a defeat at Arsenal earlier this campaign and has openly questioned the motivation levels of the squad.

Their 2-0 defeat at Everton on Sunday summed up the biggest problem under Sarri so far: inconsistency.

In the first half they were vastly superior, hitting the post through Eden Hazard and creating several chances to score. But in the second half they were extremely poor and Sarri is at a loose end trying to figure it all out.

“It is difficult for the players to explain the change to me. It is very difficult for me to explain the change to you. Probably it is a mental block, I think,” Sarri said. “At the moment, this is our limit. If we are able to play like in the first half with consistency then we are in another position in the table. We have this problem because we lost a similar match at Wolverhampton [in December]. We lost again in this way, for us it is a big limit.”

Sarri is scratching his head right now, but the same old problems keep coming back to haunt Chelsea. The Italian coach has been stubborn with his tactics and personnel choices, and there isn’t that much he has changed throughout the campaign, as there have been severe highs and lows with a League Cup final defeat on penalty kicks and big wins in the PL coupled with heavy defeats to giants and minnows alike.

Jekyll and Hyde displays have littered their season, as Chelsea fail to take chances after dominating and then completely go into their shells. Not knowing their best lineup in attack is holding Sarri-ball back, with Higuain, Giroud and a plethora of wide players constantly switched in and out of the team. There is no rhythm. No consistency. Just flashes of brilliance. Then moments of madness.

When you look at Sarri’s deployment of N'Golo Kante in a more advanced role, the way he was overpowered in the second half at Everton summed up the fact that Sarri just doesn’t have the players to play the way he wants to at Chelsea. And that isn’t going to change.

Despite all of that, Chelsea are just three points off the top four but the way they are playing and how inconsistent they have been all season is the main reason for concern.

The only reason Sarri may stay on beyond this season is if he gets Chelsea into the UEFA Champions League via the top four or winning the Europa League. Right now the latter seems like their best bet. His only saving grace is that with a transfer ban for the next two windows hanging over the club, what top manager is seriously going to step into that situation and want to take over at Chelsea?

If Sarri actually wants to stay, Chelsea may have to keep him to try and steady the ship amid plenty of uncertainty surrounding owner Roman Abramovich and FIFA’s sanctions against them.

Chelsea isn’t a happy club right now, and Sarri isn’t a happy man. Usually, the Blues are the most ruthless club around. They haven’t got that luxury anymore. If they did, Sarri would already be gone.

Europa League preview: Arsenal seeks comeback, Chelsea sees “disaster” pitch

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Arsenal has its work cut out for itself in Thursday’s Europa League second legs, while Chelsea has to just hold its water in Ukraine.

The Gunners have experience flipping a tie on its ear, doing the same in the previous round, and received some good news: Alexandre Lacazette‘s suspension was cut short and he can play as Arsenal looks to overcome a 3-1 first leg deficit to Stade Rennes.

[ MORE: Champions League power rankings ]

“We all know how important Alex Lacazette is to us as a group and obviously the more players we have available, the better it is because we do have some quality players, particularly in midfield and up top,” said Unai Emery. “Hopefully we will be able to make that danger pay. Let’s just hope that Lacazette can help us to achieve the result.”

Arsenal will not have suspended Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

As for Chelsea, the Londoners lead 3-0 after 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge but know things can get dicey far from home.

Manager Maurizio Sarri says that Dynamo Kiev’s pitch is a far cry from its “wonderful” status when he led Napoli there two seasons ago.

“A disaster,” Sarri said. “The pitch is not good, I think it’s really dangerous. It will be very difficult to play good football here at this moment, and I think it’s dangerous for injuries, but we have to accept the situation and play on this pitch. There isn’t another solution.

“I don’t understand why UEFA give so much attention to everything, like the players’ list, and then we have to play on such a bad pitch. It will also be very difficult for Dynamo. It’s a problem for us but also for our opponents.”

Chelsea gets an early kickoff, 1:55 p.m. ET, while Arsenal kicks off at 4 p.m.

Thursday’s Europa League second legs

1:55 p.m. ET
Dynamo Kiev v. Chelsea — Chelsea leads 3-0
FK Krasnodar v. Valencia — Valencia leads 2-1
RB Salzburg v. Napoli — Napoli leads 3-0

4 p.m. ET
Arsenal v. Rennes — Rennes leads 3-1
Inter Milan v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 0-0
Slavia Prague v. Sevilla — 2-2
Villarreal v. Zenit Saint-Petersburg — Villarreal leads 3-1
Benfica v. Dinamo Zagreb – Zagreb leads 1-0

Caballero backs Kepa, Sarri moves on after Chelsea win

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Chelsea’s Willy Caballero must’ve been feeling some pressure after sliding into Kepa Arrizabalaga‘s shoes following the fallout from the latter’s refusal to leave Sunday’s League Cup Final loss to Manchester City.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 2-0 Spurs ]

While the Blues’ backstop didn’t actually have to stop a Spurs shot on target, he kept the clean sheet and managed to big up his young goalkeeping partner in the post-match press conference.

“Always a clean sheet for me is satisfaction,” Caballero said. “We spoke about what happened and the very good news … is we are ready. Kepa was fantastic today supporting me. I think he learned and we learned and we are improving as a team.”

Pedro scored and was a general force for the Blues, and has seen his share of drama between his time at Barcelona and Chelsea.

He was not worried after the game, as Chelsea rebounded from a bad run to beat a big rival. And more importantly, he says the team is unified in its pursuit of its goals.

“It’s good to stay all together,” Pedro said. “It’s a big team. From here until the rest of the season, we aim for Top Four and also to win the Europa League.”

As for the man closest to the center of the Kepa incident, Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri said Wednesday’s match and the punishment to move Arrizabalaga to the bench were both victories for the club.

“It was really very easy because Kepa made a big mistake and then paid with the club. In this match he has to pay for the team. It was only a message for all the team, the dressing room, we are a team, not 25 individuals. Now we stop the question, it is behind us and in the future Kepa will be with us.”

Sarri drops Kepa to Chelsea bench as Caballero starts against Spurs

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Chelsea fined goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga one week’s wages for his refusal of a substitution in the dying minutes of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final. Many wondered whether that would be all the punishment Maurizio Sarri would dish out for an act of clear defiance.

That would not be all the punishment for the 24-year-old.

Maurizio Sarri has left Kepa on the bench for the enormous Premier League match against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, naming Willy Caballero to the starting lineup. The game kicks off at 3:00 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Chelsea v. Tottenham on NBCSports.com ]

Caballero was left befuddled on the touchline on Sunday during Kepa’s antics, dressed and ready to come on after the Spaniard was apparently injured moments earlier. However, Kepa popped up and wildly waved Sarri off who was prepared to bring on the backup with penalties looming. Kepa then failed to slow Manchester City in the shootout, most notably seeing Sergio Aguero’s effort slip straight through his hands after reaching the shot.

In his pre-match media opportunities, Sarri was asked extensively about the situation, and claimed that he had not made a  decision on whether to start or sit Kepa moving forward, but that his decision either way needs to “send a message to my group.” He also said that he did not want to over-punish Kepa and that “we don’t want to kill him” for making a mistake.

In the immediate aftermath of the match, Sarri called the whole situation a “misunderstanding” and explained that he believed Kepa to be injured, while the player was not refusing a substitute, but instead simply gesturing that he was fit enough to continue.

Player discipline aside, the decision is a massive one given the stakes of the game. The pressure has already been applied to Sarri for the last few weeks with Chelsea’s league form dipping and the club dropping to sixth in the Premier League table. Spurs, meanwhile, will feel the need to win if its slim title hopes are to remain, giving the match an even bigger edge.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea v. Spurs

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  • Spurs won 3-1 at Wembley in PL
  • Chelsea won over 2 legs in League Cup semis
  • Chelsea leads all-time 69W-40D-54L

Two managers embroiled in weekend controversy look to put a positive spin on the drama when Chelsea hosts Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri was already under fire before goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga openly defied his substitution call late in the League Cup Final on Sunday, and the Blues were denied silverware when Man City won in penalty kicks.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

And Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino went bonkers on referee Mike Dean after Burnley beat his Spurs 2-1, an upset that put his side six points back of the table lead instead of three.

So it’s a big day for both men on Wednesday, with Spurs hoping to keep their feet in the title race and Chelsea keeping its eyes trained on the Top Four. The Blues are three points back of fourth place Arsenal.

What they’re saying

Kepa Arrizabalaga on his bizarre refusal to sub off in the League Cup Final: “Although there was a misunderstanding, on reflection, I made a big mistake with how I handled the situation. I wanted to take the time today to apologise fully and in person to the coach, to Willy, my team-mates and to the club. I have done this and now I want to offer the same apology to the fans.”

Mauricio Pochettino on his post-match confrontation of referee Mike Dean“I hope I don’t repeat this type of situation. It’s not going to help my team, my club, the job of the referees and, of course, myself. I think I’m a very smart person who cannot repeat the same mistake. I was so frustrated after the game, so disappointed with the result. I didn’t want to justify the defeat and complain with the referee. It’s only that when you start to talk, your heart-rate starts to push.”

Prediction

Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son hits their stride, and Chelsea is just a bit too gassed after 120 minutes and a silverware setback on Sunday. Spurs 2-0.

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