Before the important West London derby against local rivals down the road Fulham, Maurizio Sarri took the time to sit down and speak about the incident now commonly referred to as ‘Kepagate’ during last Sunday’s disappointing Carabao Cup final defeat to Manchester City. While the British media landscape was having a field day reporting on a, given, very juicy story that made everybody’s favourite villains, Chelsea, appear in turmoil and Sarri’s days counted, Wednesday’s emphatic win over Tottenham has given the Italian coach some well-earned breathing space.
In fact, Sarri even believes that Kepa Arrizabalaga’s actions positively affected the team for the long-term and they’re subsequently “closer” as a unit now, as he told the official club website:
“When there is a difficult situation, I think it’s very difficult for everybody, but it’s a big opportunity.
We have to take the opportunity. Of course it was a very bad experience, but I think we can come out of the situation better than before. When there is a very difficult experience you can come out of it always different than before, better or worse. I think from this situation we came out better.
For the players it was a useful experience for staying more united. And also for me, with my staff and my players. We feel closer together.”
While a single win over Spurs doesn’t necessarily spell an end to Chelsea’s patchy run of form, it’s good to see Maurizio Sarri letting cool heads prevail,
showcasing calmness and authority, and once again making the best of a tricky situation, qualities this team desperately needs at this moment in time. Drawing on the positives of ‘Kepagate’ will certainly illustrate to a squad, which has frequently come out to publicly back the manager, that a united front can achieve more than resorting to needless player power tussles.
Sarri went on to speak his mind on the heatedly debated topic of Chelsea’s left-back position as Emerson can certainly be referred to as one of the winners over the past couple of weeks. The Italio-Brazilian has excelled at any opportunity given to him by the manager and has shown glimpses of why he was held in such high regard in Rome. Yet to reach his peak, Emerson has proven to possess what it takes to become Chelsea’s starting left-back and to bench Marcos Alonso, who has frequently – and rightfully – been in fans’ crosshairs of late. Sarri provided an explanation for the latter’s dip in form:
“You have to accept a player cannot stay at the top of the physical condition or mental condition for 11 months,’ said Sarri, considering Alonso’s previous performances for us.
We were lucky because in that period we had a very good moment for Emerson. Now I think Marcos started to return to his best.”
Not the news Emerson fans will have wanted to hear, but it’s nevertheless a huge improvement on the defender’s chances of starting, or even being a rotational player, compared to the first half of the season. With Alonso being given a new long-term contract by the club just a few months ago, as well as playing well in Chelsea’s win over Tottenham for the first time in what feels like a decade, it was always going to happen that Marcos ‘potentially best left-back in Europe’ Alonso was going to remain the Blues’ first choice, even after Sarri claimed the opposite during a press conference a week ago.
Ultimately, the good news is that Chelsea might finally be out of the woods and can hit some form just before the final stages of the season. Whether Emerson or Alonso, or Kepa or Caballero, start for Chelsea may remain a mystery for the immediate future, but Sarri has steadied the ship and has once again illustrated that he’s capable of handling this squad and finding just the right words. Long may it continue!