March 3, 2019 / 7:53 PM / 9 months ago

Chelsea's Sarri praises recalled Kepa as keeper shines

LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri was in the mood to forgive and forget after his recalled goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga produced a fine display in their 2-1 win at Fulham in the Premier League on Sunday.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Fulham v Chelsea - Craven Cottage, London, Britain - March 3, 2019 Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

Just a week after Arrizabalaga’s now infamous refusal to be substituted in Chelsea’s League Cup final defeat by Manchester City had enraged Sarri, the young keeper was left to bathe in the Italian’s praise for his excellence at Craven Cottage.

“He played very well, it was a normal decision (to bring him back),” Sarri told Sky Sports as Chelsea moved within two points of fourth spot in the race for Champions League football.

“He paid with the club and the team, now the situation is closed. There wasn’t another way but I think that Kepa is a man. He understood and reacted really very well.”

As a punishment for his Wembley defiance, Sarri had dropped Arrizabalaga for the midweek defeat of Tottenham Hotspur and the Spaniard, who apologised to the club and his team mates for his actions, was also fined a week’s wages.

“I spoke with him during the week, he understood,” Sarri added. “His training was really very good, the reaction today was very good. I know the man, he is very good. He made a mistake, but now that is enough.”

Having drafted Arrizabalaga back into the lineup for the west London derby after Willy Caballero had filled in for him expertly in the 2-0 win over Spurs, Sarri was rewarded with a top performance after one early, careless handling error.

With Chelsea 1-0 up, the Spaniard made a brilliant, acrobatic save to keep out Aleksandar Mitrovic and also repelled efforts from Tom Cairney and Joe Bryan as his side recorded a second straight win with goals by Gonzalo Higuain and Jorginho.

Sarri was delighted for his first-half scorers, especially after the criticism aimed at midfield lynchpin Jorginho, who had not previously found the net from open play for Chelsea and who has been seen as an underwhelming presence.

“My opinion about Jorginho is the same,” said Sarri. “He is a great player, one of the most important in Europe in that position. It is not easy in a first season in this team.”

After Higuain notched his third Chelsea goal since joining the club on loan from Juventus, Sarri added: “He is one of the best strikers in Europe. He is not at his top level physically but could have scored three times today.

“He is improving and in a couple of weeks he will be able to be at his top.”

Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Ken Ferris

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