Sarri warns Tottenham that they are now embroiled in a top four battle
Just five points separate Tottenham in third and Chelsea in sixth.
Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri has warned Tottenham their Champions League qualification place is under threat.
Sixth-placed Chelsea have a game in hand and are now a point behind fifth-placed Arsenal and two adrift of Manchester United in fourth after Sunday’s 2-1 win at Fulham.
Third-placed Spurs, beaten 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, are just five points better off than the Blues.
Sarri reckons Mauricio Pochettino’s men, who until recently were trying to force their way into the title fight with Manchester City and Liverpool, should be looking over their shoulders.
Sarri said: “We were trying to involve Tottenham in the fight and I think that now they are involved.
“So, better two teams for four places than three for one place.”
Sarri praised the response of Kepa Arrizabalaga to his disciplinary action after the goalkeeper made a major contribution to the win at Craven Cottage.
Goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Jorginho ensured Chelsea inflicted a losing start on Fulham caretaker boss Scott Parker.
The decisive goal came just three minutes after Calum Chambers had equalised, while Kepa made fine saves to twice deny Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Kepa – the world’s most expensive goalkeeper at £71.6million from Athletic Bilbao – ignored Sarri’s attempts to replace him in last Sunday’s Carabao Cup final loss to City, with penalties looming.
Initially downplayed as a misunderstanding over an injury, Kepa was fined and dropped for Wednesday’s win over Tottenham, with Willy Caballero starting in his place.
“It was a normal decision (to recall him),” Sarri added.
“The reaction today was really very good. He paid with the club, with the team. Now the situation is closed.”
The Italian on Sunday said he had had two options to deal with the situation: reintegrate the goalkeeper or jettison him for the remainder of the season.
Sarri said the latter option never really crossed his mind – but it might have done with a different player.
He added: “With another man? Yes, of course, I could’ve done in another way. (But) I know him very well and I know that it wasn’t the right solution.”
Chelsea, and Higuain, in particular, had opportunities to put the game out of Fulham’s reach, but a third goal did not come.
Sarri reckons his side felt the effects of a draining week.
Important 3 points!✨🔵⚽️ pic.twitter.com/BezcvQXFUw— Ruben Loftus-Cheek (@rubey_lcheek) March 3, 2019
“We played very well for 60 minutes, very well. We could’ve killed the match with a third goal,” he added.
“We didn’t kill the match and then in the last 20, 25 minutes we were really very tired. Physically, but also mentally.”
Jorginho scored his first goal from open play for Chelsea and was cheered off when substituted in the second half, 10 days after being booed when coming on against Malmo.
“I’m very, very happy for him,” Sarri added.
Fulham are now 10 points adrift of safety with nine games to go.
Ryan Sessegnon thought he had earned a crucial point, but the stoppage-time effort was ruled out for offside.
Parker said: “He looked offside, to be fair. It’s minimal, but it’s the right call.
“On the run of play second half, maybe speaking with my heart before analysing it, 2-2 would have been a fair result.
“That’s how I felt: a disallowed goal, the keeper’s pulled off a couple of world-class saves.”
Parker felt the supporters got behind his team after a disconnect under Claudio Ranieri.
And he acknowledges Fulham’s likely relegation will provoke questions.
He added: “You go from the best league in the world to the Championship, so there will be some restructuring, but that’s probably a conversation to have at the end of the season.”