Kante, one of the heroes of the semi-final at Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday which saw Chelsea put one foot in the final on May 29 as they drew 1-1, limped off after just nine minutes yesterday with a hamstring problem – and now faces a desperate battle to be fit if Chelsea qualify for the game in Baku.
Sarri revealed that Kante had damaged a hamstring, would miss the second leg of the semi-final on Thursday against Eintracht, and Chelsea’s final league game at Leicester.
The Chelsea manager admitted: “I made a mistake, because N’Golo should have rested.
“It’s very difficult to put a player as important as Kante on the bench, but you have to do it. Otherwise you take a risk. I made a mistake.
“I don’t know the severity of the problem. But I think it’s very difficult to recover him for the next two matches. We have to try and recover him for the final in case we get there.”
The loss of Kante would be a savage blow for Chelsea – but they recovered yesterday as goals from the again impressive Ruben Loftus-Cheek, David Luiz and Gonzalo Higuain saw off Watford. And an even bigger bonus two hours later was that Arsenal’s failure to beat Brighton meant that the Stamford Bridge side had qualified for the Champions League next season.
Loftus-Cheek, outstanding in Frankfurt in midweek, ran the game again after coming on, just as FA Cup finalists Watford looked like putting a spoke in those top four hopes.
And Gary Cahill, discarded for virtually the whole season by Sarri, and who admitted on the morning of the game that he found it difficult to respect the Italian, was given a final send off – sent on in the 89th minute for his first league appearance since September.
Cesar Azpilicueta handed the captain’s armband to the 33 year old, whose contract runs out at the end of this season and whose future now lies elsewhere. He received a standing ovation as he ran on.
Sarri said: “It’s not important for me what has been said. Cahill during the season, was very professional. He played only five, six or seven matches, but he was very important in the training ground, in the dressing room.
“Today was his last match for Chelsea, so it was important for him to be on the pitch, only for a few minutes, important for the fans and for him. Gary won everything here. He had to say goodbye to the fans, to the club.”
Chelsea had looked jaded in the first 45 minutes after their exertions in Germany, and Watford should have punished them. Gerard Deulofeu twice missed, Troy Deeney saw his header brilliantly saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga, and Jose Holebas went close.
But then Loftus-Cheek, whose runs had been causing problems, got going. Eden Hazard crossed from a short corner, and the England midfielder rose to nod home at the far post.
Three minutes later Chelsea had effectively wrapped the game up, as from Hazard’s corner, Luiz eluded his marker to thump home a header. Sarri’s team were now on top, and when Pedro flicked the ball through to Higuain, the Argentine turned to hook home the third goal.
A disappointed Watford manager Javi Gracia moaned: “I am very frustrated. We didn’t deserve that bad result. We have to be more aggressive in both boxes, because, we had the chances.”