February 25 – Have you ever seen anything like it? That was the widespread reaction to the extraordinary scenes that marked the climax of Sunday’s English League Cup final won by Manchester City, who retained the trophy on penalties following a goalless draw with Chelsea.
Remarkably, Kepa Arrizabalaga, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper who appeared to be suffering from cramp, defied instructions from Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri to be substituted at the end of extra time.
Kepa proceeded to lose the shootout and speculation is rife that he will now also lose his place in the team after defying Sarri whose tenure as manager was under considerable threat going into the final at Wembley following a series of bad results.
Sarri was determined to bring on Willy Caballero, who saved three spot kicks in the 2016 League Cup final, ironically while at Manchester City. Instead Kepa, who joined Chelsea in August for €80 million, simply would not leave the field. With his authority undermined, Sarri was seething and initially headed down the tunnel before returning just in time for extra time to end.
“It wasn’t that I was refusing to be substituted,” Kepa explained later, after being beaten by four penalties in City’s 4-3 victory in the shootout. “It was a way of trying to tell the bench that I was fine.”
“In no moment was it my intention to disobey, or anything like that with the boss. Just that it was misunderstood because I had been attended to by the medics twice, and he thought that I wasn’t in condition to continue. It was two or three minutes of confusion until the medics got to the bench, and they explained everything well.”
Sarri also attempted to play down the incident. “It was a big misunderstanding because I understood the keeper had cramp and was unable to go to penalties,” he told reporters. “But it was not cramp and he could go to the penalties.”
The incident totally overshadowed an unspectacular final in which Chelsea played infinitely better than in their recent 6-0 league drubbing by City, almost snatching victory in the second half after being pegged back in the opening 45 minutes.
But the result will do little to ease the pressure on Sarri amid reports of player power verging on mutiny and a total lack of respect for the Italian who only joined at the start of this season.
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