Beleaguered Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri insists his relationship with the Blues hierarchy is unchanged by the Kepa Arrizabalaga furore ahead of what is potentially the final match of his seven-month tenure.
The 60-year-old Italian was already under intense pressure due to results; the Blues’ heaviest defeat for 28 years – 6-0 at Manchester City – swiftly followed abject losses to Arsenal and at Bournemouth which leave them sixth in the Premier League ahead of Wednesday’s match with Tottenham.
Kepa’s refusal to be replaced with penalties looming in last Sunday’s Carabao Cup final with City, which the Blues lost 4-3 in the shootout, overshadowed an improved performance, but prompted plenty of questions over whether Sarri had the support of his players.
“My relationship with the club is like before,” Sarri said.
Sarri spoke with director Marina Granovskaia, a key confidante of owner Roman Abramovich, prior to and after the Wembley loss.
The conversation following the defeat was about the handling of the Kepa situation, with the Blues board fining the 24-year-old a week’s wages which will be donated to the Chelsea Foundation charity.
“I spoke with Marina this week, before the final, just for good luck,” Sarri added.
“I spoke to Marina after the match about the Kepa situation.”
Blues fans disgruntled by ‘Sarri-ball’ gave a less-than-glowing assessment during the FA Cup exit to Manchester United, while also joining visiting supporters chanting “you’re getting sacked in the morning”.
Abramovich is not renowned for his patience and being sacked is a fate which could fall on Sarri if Chelsea suffer an embarrassing loss to Spurs.
But the Italian was keen to downplay the personal impact of the atmosphere, by urging the supporters to get behind the team.
“I was disappointed in the atmosphere for my players. Only for my players,” he said.
“But I think I can understand the fans, of course. They are used to winning. Now we have a difficult moment.
“But I’d like to see more support for my players, not for me.”
Chelsea issued a statement on their website ahead of the Spurs game, urging support to be positive, but that was more in a reference to the anti-Semitic chanting which has taken place previously, including last December.
Chelsea’s challenges are numerous, not least the FIFA-imposed 12-month transfer ban for signing underage players, which the club is challenging.
Sarri added: “There is only one difficulty: the results.
“The atmosphere in the training ground is now really very good. The application of the players is better than before. The problem now is to have results with consistency.
“It is very difficult to play physically every three days. But the big problem is mentally.
“To arrive at every match with the same level of application and determination is really very difficult. We have to do it tomorrow because this is a very important match. A very difficult match.
“It’s not easy to play with the same level of application as in the last match because, mentally, we spent a lot in the match on Sunday.”