When Kovacic got ready to come on in the 70th minute, most inside Stamford Bridge thought the same thing – ‘Barkley will be off’.
Sarri’s changes had become extremely predictable and his favourite was to replace Kovacic with Barkley or vice-versa.
But, to the relief of everyone, Kovacic replaced Jorginho for the final 20 minutes although Sarri afterwards revealed his decision had been influenced by the former Napoli midfielder feeling pain in his groin.
But Sarri is also looking at using Kovacic in Jorginho’s position after Chelsea decided against signing a like-for-like replacement for Cesc Fabregas, who joined Monaco.
And that could force Sarri to be more creative with his substitutions as he juggles players between different positions and looks to use his squad more effectively.
Asked who can act as Jorginho’s stand-in after Chelsea did not sign a midfielder in January, Sarri said: “We are trying in training with two players. The first Ampadu and the second is Kovavcic.
“It may be that for his characteristics, Kovacic is more suitable for this team. Ampadu is more defensive, but Kovacic is really close to Jorginho in moving the ball very fast, one touch. In the future, he will be able to play this position well.”
Sarri also has Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who replaced Kante with seven minutes remaining, and the Italian added: “I have to try with the players we already had.
“So I think Kovacic (to stand in for Jorginho) could be a very good option, then we need to recover completely Loftus-Cheek after his back problem. And then we can play sometimes with Kovacic as a central midfielder and Jorginho will be able to rest.”