Sarri: I never lost the dressing room

By Sports Desk March 06, 2019

Maurizio Sarri rejected the idea that Chelsea's players have started showing him more respect, saying that their return to form is down to an improved mentality rather than a shift in his relationship with his squad.

Following a troubling sequence of four defeats in seven games across all competitions, Chelsea have shown signs that they are regaining confidence after back-to-back victories against Tottenham and Fulham in the Premier League.

Those wins have teed the Blues up for the visit of Dynamo Kyiv in the Europa League on Thursday and Sarri said he was happy with his side's response since the chaos of goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga's refusal to be substituted in the EFL Cup final loss to Manchester City.

When asked whether his squad is difficult to manage, Sarri told reporters: "In my opinion no. Of course the situation is not easy because we are Chelsea, we have to win something, but the players are not very difficult to manage.

"They respected me before. It wasn't a problem for me, the dressing room. We have some problems with the mentality because we did very bad in two or three matches, not the dressing room.

"I was lucky because I have two very good goalkeepers. In the match against Tottenham, [Willy] Caballero did very well, in the match against Fulham, Kepa did very well.

"I am lucky for this because we have really two very, very good goalkeepers. You can see the situation was well managed, I was lucky I think."

Chelsea go into their round-of-16 tie against Kyiv having qualified with a 5-1 aggregate win over Malmo, and Sarri indicated that the Europa League is an important competition for his players.

However, the Italian does not see it as Chelsea's best hope of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

He said: "I think we can gain the spot in the Champions League in the Premier League. We are fighting.

"We are only two points away [from the top four] at the moment, and have to play one match [in hand]. But the Europa League is a very important competition, the second in Europe, an important trophy with a spot for the Champions League."

Blues defender David Luiz backed his coach's comments about the club's handling of recent controversies and described Sarri as "a great human".

"You don't change your character because of the situation; you change the situation," said the Brazil international.

"He's a great human, someone with the love and passion with football, loving with people and trying to help everyone, giving the best advice.

"When you lose a game, like we did in Manchester [6-0 at City], no one is going to be happy and coming here joking around. He's a real person, and real people have feelings good and bad."

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    Winger Ahmed Musa did not appear as scheduled for the Super Eagles' pre-match news conference ahead of their Group B match following reports the squad did not receive a bonus payment for the 1-0 victory over Burundi.

    Rohr confirmed that Musa missed the media appearance to meet with the NFF but said he hoped the situation would be resolved quickly to allow them to focus on their Africa Cup of Nations campaign, which continues against Guinea on Wednesday.

    "My player [Musa] couldn't attend the press conference today because they have a very important meeting," said Rohr.

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    Odion Ighalo came on as a substitute against Burundi and scored within four minutes of his introduction to settle a tight match at Alexandria Stadium.

    Guinea started their campaign with a 2-2 draw against Madagascar, and Rohr said the prospect of clinching qualification for the next round with a second successive victory would motivate his players.

    "I think that we are ready because the players are coming back and becoming fit now, and Guinea have the pressure because they have to win this match," said Rohr.

    "I think that this match is the most difficult in our group when you see the players they have playing in such big teams like Liverpool, Napoli, Bordeaux. A lot of them have been educated in France with the French football philosophy.

    "But we are in a positive situation because we are top of the group with three points we want to stay on the top of the group.

    "If we win we are sure to be qualified already and this is a big motivation for our players."

    Guinea defender Issiaga Sylla, who plays his club football for Toulouse, indicated his side would go for broke to get the result they need to keep their campaign alive.

    "We don't have anything to lose," he told reporters. "We'll play with all our strength against Nigeria. It's going to be difficult but we'll do everything we can.

    "We have a lot of players that can make the difference."


    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Nigeria - John Obi Mikel

    Substituted after just under an hour against Burundi, Mikel admitted his side struggled to break down their opponents and will be keen to make amends against Guinea.

    Guinea - Sory Kaba

    Forward Kaba has scored in Guinea's last two games, including netting in the 34th minute of the draw with Madagascar, and will be a marked man against Nigeria.


    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - Nigeria and Guinea’s only previous AFCON encounter came in March 1976 in the group stages (1-1).
    - Guinea are unbeaten in their last four meetings against Nigeria in all competitions (W3 D1), after winning none of their previous eight games against the Super Eagles (D4 L4).
    - Nigeria have won their last five games in the tournament, their longest streak ever in their history, never conceding more than one goal in each of their five encounters.
    - Guinea are winless in their last six games in the Africa Cup of Nations (D5 L1), their last success in the competition coming back in January 2012 against Botswana (6-1).

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    Pogba, who returned to United from Juventus three years ago, has sparked transfer speculation by saying he feels it is a "good time to have a new challenge somewhere else".

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    Neville, though, feels Pogba should be allowed to leave if the World Cup winner has decided he wants to move on, but only if replacements are secured first.

    "They don't have to keep any player," Neville wrote in a Sky Sports column.

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    Daniel James is the only signing made by United since Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho, leading to criticism of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who handles transfer business.

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    "It's difficult to do business, it's not easy," added Neville, who won eight Premier League titles with the Red Devils. "Everyone knows Manchester United want players and price tags will go up. You've got to try and encourage players to come to the club.

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