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Sarri bemused as Chelsea slumps to 2-0 loss at Everton

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — There was no locker-room lockdown from Maurizio Sarri this time. No public show of disgust toward any of his players, either. Instead, just a look of bemusement across the face of the Chelsea coach.

"It's very difficult for me to explain," Sarri said after his team's second-half implosion in a 2-0 loss at Everton in the Premier League on Sunday. "The players don't know what happened. At the moment, I don't really know the change."

It has become something of a ritual now: Sarri — looking beleaguered and anguished — emerging from an away dressing room and struggling to make sense of a disappointing Chelsea performance. That's four losses in Chelsea's last five league matches on the road. They have included a 4-0 loss at Bournemouth — when Sarri kept his players inside the locker room for an hour after the game, demanding answers — and a 6-0 loss at Manchester City, which was arguably the low point of Chelsea's season.

Also during the last two months was that bizarre English League Cup final against Man City, when goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused an order from Sarri to be substituted, leading to the Italian getting enraged on the sidelines at Wembley and almost storming out of the stadium.

Chelsea's players are proving to be a real challenge for their coach. With Eden Hazard in sparkling form, Chelsea overwhelmed Everton in the first half and had enough chances to win the game by halftime. Hazard struck the post and forced a fine low save from Jordan Pickford, who also defied Jorginho.

"Today we played the best 45 minutes of the season," Sarri said. But then came the second half, when Chelsea virtually fell apart and Everton ended its 26-month wait for a victory over a team from the Premier League's "Big Six."

Brazil forward Richarlison nodded home the rebound after Kepa saved from Dominic Calvert-Lewin at a corner in the 49th minute, then earned the penalty from which Gylfi Sigurdsson eventually scored in the 72nd after being tripped by Marcos Alonso.

Sigurdsson's spot kick was saved by Kepa but the ball spurted out into the path of the Iceland playmaker, who couldn't miss from inside the six-yard box. The drop-off by Chelsea was alarming. By the end of the second half, Hazard was throwing his hands up in the air in despair.

"I am worried about our mentality," Sarri said. "Of course, if we play like in the second half in the next matches, we are in trouble. It's impossible to arrive in the top four." "We have this problem," he added. "A big limit for us."

Chelsea could have moved level on points with fourth-placed Arsenal with a victory, but instead stayed in sixth place with eight games left. The team's best chance of qualifying for next season's Champions League might yet come via winning the Europa League, in which Chelsea advanced to the quarterfinals this week and was drawn against Slavia Prague.

The winners of that competition qualify for the Champions League. This was a first win for Everton over a top-six side since beating Man City in January 2017 and it lifted Marco Silva's team into 11th place.

"(The first half) was everything I don't want and the second half was everything the way I want to play," Silva said. "I could see a desire to win the game and we could challenge a team like Chelsea. "I'm very proud of the players because of what they did in the second half."

More AP English soccer: https://apnews.com/PremierLeague and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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