Lockdown: Sarri keeps team in locker room after Chelsea loss

Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri gives directions to his players during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Unable to fathom his team’s second-half capitulation, Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri kept his players in the locker room for around an hour after a humiliating 4-0 loss at Bournemouth on Wednesday.

His assistants weren’t allowed in the room. The media was kept waiting. Sarri simply wanted answers.

“I needed to understand,” Sarri said. “It’s impossible to play in such a different way between the first and second half. I don’t understand why.”

Sarri even started to question himself.

“Maybe it’s my fault,” he added, “maybe I’m not able to motivate them.”

From 0-0 at halftime, Chelsea conceded four goals to slump to its heaviest loss so far in Sarri’s turbulent reign. It’s back-to-back league defeats for Chelsea, which was outplayed in a 2-0 loss at Arsenal 11 days earlier.

That led to a coruscating attack from Sarri on his players’ attitude and mentality. It hasn’t had the desired effect, with Chelsea now out of the top four — on goals scored below Arsenal — in the race to secure one of the four Champions League qualification positions.

Without one of them, Sarri surely won’t survive more than a season at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea has long since exited the title race, which was thought to be down to two teams — Liverpool and Manchester City. However, Liverpool failed to fully capitalize on City’s 2-1 loss to Newcastle on Tuesday by only drawing 1-1 at home to Leicester a day later, giving Juergen Klopp’s team a five-point lead when it could have been seven.

Now there might be a third team in contention, with Tottenham rallying to a 2-1 win over Watford to close to within seven points of Liverpool.

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HIGUAIN INEFFECTIVE

Gonzalo Higuain was handed a first Premier League start by Chelsea after his loan move from Juventus. It was a sobering night for the Argentine striker.

He was substituted after 65 minutes, having failed to record a shot on target or look a significant upgrade on Olivier Giroud — the target man already at the London club.

“You don’t know what you are doing,” sang Chelsea’s fans when Sarri sent on Giroud as a replacement for Higuain, supposedly the answers to Chelsea’s scoring problems.

Josh King scored either side of a superb solo strike from David Brooks, before Charlie Daniels added a fourth for Bournemouth in second-half stoppage time.

NERVOUS LIVERPOOL

With Liverpool in position to win a first league title since 1990, the ground staff seems to be doing everything it can to help the team out.

At halftime, workers cleared snow out of the penalty area that Liverpool was attacking but didn’t do the same to the one the team was defending. Not that it mattered.

This was an unconvincing, sometimes nervous display by the leaders, who couldn’t build on the lead Sadio Mane gave them after 121 seconds — Liverpool’s quickest league goal in nearly three years.

Harry Maguire equalized in first-half stoppage time for Leicester, which has beaten Chelsea and Man City in the past five weeks.

It was the first time since April that Liverpool has dropped points against anyone outside the so-called “Big Six” in the league.

TOTTENHAM RECOVERS

So much for Tottenham being in a crisis.

After exiting two cup competitions in the space of four days last week, Tottenham ensured it can still have a say in the title race in the league by coming from behind against Watford.

Craig Cathcart headed home a corner in the 38th to put Watford ahead but Son Heung-min marked his return from the Asian Cup duty with South Korea with an equalizer in the 80th.

Fernando Llorente then made up for a glaring miss earlier in the game by heading home a cross to secure a second straight late comeback win for Spurs, who netted in injury time to earn a 2-1 win at Fulham in their previous league match.

In Wednesday’s other game, Wilfried Zaha scored and was later sent off for Crystal Palace in a 1-1 draw at Southampton, which moved four points clear of the relegation zone.

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