Maurizio Sarri has insisted that the way Chelsea carried out his gameplan against Manchester City showed his authority is intact.
An extraordinary incident involving goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who refused to come off when Sarri wanted to replace him during Sunday’s Carabao Cup final, appeared to seriously undermine the head coach.
Already under intense pressure following some dismal recent results – including a 6-0 hammering by City in the league – the fiasco has led to further speculation about Sarri’s position.
However, Chelsea’s performance at Wembley, where they lost on penalties, suggested Sarri’s players are responding to him.
The Italian made a bold call by dropping Gonzalo Higuain to the bench and again asking Eden Hazard to lead the attack.
The intention was to contain City and stay in the game – and it worked, with Chelsea frustrating their opponents before coming on strong later in the final.
“If you saw the match you can understand very well that the players played exactly the match that we prepared for,” Sarri said.
“So I think I am in control – fully in control – of this situation.”
Sarri was clearly furious after Kepa’s refusal to leave the pitch but he insisted after the game that the incident was “a big misunderstanding” and that the Spaniard, who had appeared to be injured, was simply making it clear he was fit to continue.
“I misunderstood the problem and only realised the situation when the doctor arrived at the bench,” Sarri added.
“He understood I asked for a change for his physical problem. He said, ‘I haven’t a physical problem’ and he was right.”
“Kepa was right but (behaved) in the wrong way, I think. I was really angry but then I realised everything when the doctor arrived.
“I thought Kepa had cramp but then the doctor explained to me that it wasn’t cramp.”
Kepa has also insisted that the incident was a misunderstanding and that he was simply reassuring Sarri that he was fit to continue rather than seeking to undermine him.
“First of all, I have to say it was misunderstood,” Kepa told Chelsea’s website.
“In no moment was it my intention to disobey, or anything like that with the boss. Just that it was misunderstood, because I had been attended to by the medics twice, and he thought that I wasn’t in condition to continue.
“It was two or three minutes of confusion until the medics got to the bench, and they explained everything well.
“It was misunderstood. Because he thought I couldn’t continue, and – fundamentally – I was trying to say that physically I was fine.
“I know if you see it from outside, I don’t know how it went out, it is not the best image. I have spoken with the boss. I think it was misunderstood.
“I understand that on television, on social media, they’re talking about this but I am here to explain it, to say that it wasn’t my intention to go against the manager.
“We have spoken now, and I was only trying to say I’m fine. He thought I wasn’t fine.”