The Sunday just past proved to be an historic and memorable day. Though not necessarily for the right reasons. The League Cup final is always a day to enjoy in the football calendar. From Birmingham City’s incredible victory over Arsenal, to Swansea’s 2013 success; the League Cup final is always likely to provide entertainment and drama, the 2019 final was to become no exception. Though not for the right reasons.
Following their 6-0 embarrassment at the Etihad just over two weeks ago, it’s fair to say that not many thought Chelsea had much of a chance against current Premier League Champions, Manchester City. Maurizio Sarri’s stubbornness in his team selection and style of play had been a regular feature in recent times at Chelsea. In terms of the Italians approach to the final of the EFL Cup, many fans and pundits alike thought it very likely that Sarri would have marched into Wembley Stadium with the intention of adopting that same style of play and selection of player which saw them lose so heavily to Pep Guardiola’s men and their neighbours, Manchester United a week ago.
However, it was not to be. Chelsea instead deployed the perfect game plan against the ‘Noisy Neighbours’. For 120 minutes of football, the West London side played deep and compact, forcing the holders of the League Cup to try and break through the Chelsea defence from the flanks as they fired in more crosses in the first half of the cup final than they did during the entire match only two weeks back.
Under the new approach from Sarri, including the arrival of Calum Hudson-Odoi from the bench, instead of Kovacic for Barkley, Chelsea may have even shaded the match as they were desperately unlucky to score from efforts through N’golo Kante and Pedro. Although Sergio Aguero’s goal was wrongly ruled offside – in my opinion the Argentinian had been level with Rudiger.
With penalties looming, The Blues and their manager, Sarri, had put in a performance that the Chelsea faithful could be proud of regardless of whether they went on to win or lose.
Then goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga helped burn everything that had been built to ash.
After going down with what appeared to be cramp, back up keeper and expert penalty stopper from the final three years ago and former City understudy goalie, Willy Caballero had warmed up, ready to come on with a minute to go before the shootout could take place as the board went up. Kepa, whom had probably only been feigning injury to waste time, refused to trudge off, waving the substitution away.
Chaos erupted. Maurizio Sarri exploded with rage as his goalkeeper disobeyed his orders. Gianfranco Zola, Chelsea legend and assistant to Sarri, is normally a very calm and collected figure on the touch line but even the little Italian maestro was shouting and waving in fury. Despite talks from teammate David Luiz, the 24-year-old Spaniard stood his ground, and when referee Jon Moss approached Chelsea’s head coach to gain confirmation of a decision, Sarri, completely undermined at this point regardless, relented and allowed Kepa to keep his spot and perform in goal for the penalty shootout.
The drama was nowhere over, Sarri took to The Blues bench cursing and yelling, hurling a bottle down before nearly stalking off down the tunnel and for possibly a split second out of a job, his future under very real scrutiny.
Despite saving Leroy Sane’s effort, Kepa was hugely at fault for Sergio Aguero’s penalty conversion. The Spaniard had been able to get both hands to a tame strike by Aguero’s standards yet was unable to push the ball away from goal as it rolled meekly beneath his gloves. Aguero’s face told a lucky story.
Raheem Sterling scored an emphatic winning penalty for Manchester City after Jorginho and David Luiz had failed to covert for The Blues, ensuring the League Cup stayed in Manchester, leaving City’s potential quadruple hopes very much alive.
Following the game, Sarri in an interview and Kepa on Twitter, both claimed that the substitution situation had been nothing other than a simple misunderstanding on both parts and that there is no problem between them.
I completely disagree, not only does this incident completely throw the Italian’s authority as manager into question, it also makes the idea that the players run the show seem ever more realistic. Once again the players only seem to perform as and when it suits them, an issue that has been ongoing since Andres Villas Boas exited the club in 2012 before the players would subsequently go on and win a Champions League and FA Cup double under former player Roberto Di Matteo a mere few months later.
At £75 million, Kepa is the most expensive goalkeeper of all time, yet his performances have made a mockery of this sum and after his actions on Sunday, you can bet that the 24-year-old Spaniard will be no keeper for Sarri if the Italian can get his way. If I was a Blues fan, I’d want him a goner but with an impending transfer ban looming over them, the future of Chelsea football club is very much up in the air.