Life at the Stamford Bridge is gradually returning to normalcy after Chelsea defeated a flat Tottenham side 2-0 on Wednesday night.
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri made goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga “pay” for his “big mistake” by dropping him before the team cast aside an air of crisis with a thoroughly deserved win over Tottenham.
Sarri left Kepa on the bench following the Spaniard’s refusal to be substituted in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final defeat by Manchester City, re-asserting his authority and ensuring speculation about his future will be lifted, for now at least, after this excellent performance and victory.
“It was very easy. Kepa made a big mistake and then paid with the club. In this match he has to pay with the team,” Sarri said.
“It was only a message for all the team, the dressing room – we are a team and not 25 individuals. Now it is behind us and Kepa from tomorrow will be with us.”
Tottenham’s title hopes, already dented by defeat at Burnley on Saturday, are now surely over after this loss at Stamford Bridge and they must focus on what is an increasingly competitive fight for a top-four place.
Gonzalo Higuain hit the woodwork for Chelsea and Harry Winks had similar misfortune in the first half but Sarri’s side saw their endeavour rewarded when Pedro’s wriggling run ended with a shot between Hugo Lloris’ legs at his near post after 57 minutes.
Harry Kane wasted a good chance to level for Spurs but this damaging loss was sealed in calamitous fashion when Kieran Trippier turned Olivier Giroud’s flick past Lloris into his own net with six minutes left.
This was a vital night for Sarri after Kepa’s insubordination so this was a victory of huge significance for the Italian on a night when the keeper’s replacement Willy Caballero was barely troubled.
Sarri even found variety in his substitutions, with the trademark exchange of Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic – which brought ironic cheers and laughter from Chelsea fans during the Manchester United loss – replaced by more imaginative alterations.
Here, Kovacic was replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek while Willian came on for Eden Hazard.
After taking the big decision to bench his errant keeper, Sarri needed a good performance, three points and a show of solidarity from his Chelsea players.
He got all three on a very satisfactory night.
“It was really very important tonight because we’re fighting for the top four,” said Sarri.
“I don’t know but I think maybe with this result we could involve Tottenham in this fight. The gap is very large, seven points, but we have one match [in hand].”
“In this job you are under pressure every week if you’re lucky every six months. It’s normal. If you lose two matches, three matches in a row you’re under pressure. I think it’s normal for every coach, maybe something more in Chelsea.”