By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has said victory over Arsenal in next week’s Europa League final would complete a wonderful season for the club, despite speculation about his future.
The Italian came in for fierce criticism from the Stamford Bridge fans during his first campaign but ended up steering Chelsea to a third-place finish in the Premier League.
They also reached the League Cup final and former Napoli boss Sarri said the club deserve some silverware.
“I think we had a good season with a lot of problems of course. We lost two or three matches very badly but we had a good season in the end,” he told reporters as he looked ahead to next week’s clash with Arsenal in the Azerbaijan capital Baku.
“Now we have the Europa League final so the season is a good season and if we can win it would be a wonderful season.”
Sarri, who has two years left on his contract, refused to be drawn on whether he would still be at Stamford Bridge next season, saying his future was the clash with Arsenal.
He also said he would meet the club’s owners once the dust had settled after the final, though he rejected any notion that he would be judged on whether Chelsea beat Arsenal.
“If the situation is like that I want to go immediately because you cannot after 10 months of work have to play everything in 90 minutes,” he said.
“You are either happy with my work or not happy.”
Sarri expects N’Golo Kante to be fit for the final, the midfielder having returned to training following a hamstring injury, but defender Antonio Rudiger will not be fit.
Chelsea are also without their England midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek who suffered an Achilles tendon injury during a Holocaust Memorial friendly match in Boston last week.
“We are trying to recover Kante, he had part of the training yesterday with the group so we are optimistic that he will be able to play in the final,” Sarri said.
While Chelsea have already sealed their Champions League spot for next season by finishing third in the Premier League, Arsenal must win in Baku to rejoin Europe’s elite.
Sarri said that factor could work both ways.
“It’s a risk (that our players will have less motivation) but they (Arsenal) have more pressure at the moment so there is a positive and negative,” Sarri said.
“Two months ago we wanted the Champion League place through the Premier League and then we wanted to win a trophy, so the final is very important for us.
“Our feeling is that we deserve to win a trophy.”
Sarri was asked if playmaker Eden Hazard would be playing his last Chelsea game before a likely move to Real Madrid.
“I want to respect his decision but I don’t know,” he said. “I hope he will stay with us but we have to be ready if he decides different.”
The Italian also expressed his sympathy for the fans of both finalists, who have to make a near 6,000 mile round-trip to Baku to watch the all-English final.
Only 6,000 tickets have been made available to each club.
“The location is a big problem for our fans and so I think it was better another location,” he said.
“For everybody it’s better to play with 30,000 fans of Chelsea and 30,000 of Arsenal. You do this job for these matches, so it’s better to have the fans with the team.”
The final takes place next Wednesday.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)