(Reuters) – Gonzalo Higuain will join Chelsea in the next few hours but the deal has come too late for the Argentina striker to face Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup semi-final, second leg on Thursday, manager Maurizio Sarri has said.
Higuain is set to switch to the Premier League club from Juventus for the rest of the season after his year-long loan spell with AC Milan was cut to less than six months.
The 31-year-old did not sign before Wednesday’s midday deadline and cannot therefore play against Spurs at Stamford Bridge in a match Chelsea trail 1-0 from the first leg.
“I know they have been trying to sign the contract with him today… they are still a few hours from getting it done,” Sarri told reporters on Wednesday. “For tomorrow, I think, it’s impossible.”
Higuain’s spell at Milan started with six goals in seven games but he has only scored once in his last 12 appearances.
Sarri hopes he will rediscover the form that saw him score 38 times in their final season together at Napoli in 2015-16.
“He has had some difficulties recently, but we’re hoping we can raise him back to his best form,” the Italian coach added.
“He’s still scored eight goals in a team that isn’t at the same level as Juventus.
“He’s a very strong striker. Especially in my first season in Naples. He scored 36 goals in 35 matches in Serie A. For sure, he is one of the best strikers in my career.”
Sarri is keen to boost his goalscoring options after dropping misfiring Spain forward Alvaro Morata and deploying playmaker Eden Hazard as a ‘false nine’ in recent games.
Asked if the arrival of Higuain was a sign that the club are behind him, Sarri said: “I hope so. I think the club agree with me when I told them my opinion about the team.
“The January market is very difficult, especially for a striker. It’s very difficult in January to find one of the most important strikers in the world.”
Chelsea are in the fourth and final Champions League qualifying spot in the Premier League standings, three points ahead of Arsenal who beat them 2-0 on Saturday.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; editing by Ken Ferris)