Kepa loses sub-plot in Wembley drama as City retain trophy
Chelsea 0 Manchester City 0 (Manchester City win 4-3 on pens AET)
Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea future took a new twist after Kepa Arrizabalaga revolted by refusing to be substituted in their League Cup final penalty shoot-out defeat by Manchester City at Wembley
Less than a week after the Stamford Bridge crowd rebelled against the Italian by singing "F*** Sarri-ball", Kepa, the world's most expensive goalkeeper, openly defied his orders inside a shocked stadium as City preserved their dreams of an unprecedented quadruple by retaining the League Cup, with Raheem Sterling striking the decisive spot-kick in the shoot-out.
The absolutist Sarri adapted, changed his tactics, even finally changed his substitutions and appeared to have listened for a match which could have been - could even still be - his last at Chelsea.
And it worked. Until he was then completely, utterly and shamefully undermined by one of his own players, with Arrizabalaga flatly refusing to be substituted deep into extra time despite the board being shown and the change being announced.
Arrizabalaga had twice gone down injured, having made saves, yet simply would not come off. It was ridiculous behaviour.
David Luiz vainly tried to make him go - Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta failed to intervene - and Sarri erupted on the touchline.
The Italian marched down the tunnel, came back and, extraordinarily, had to be restrained by Antonio Rudiger before the shoot-out while Chelsea's medical director Paco Biosca also acted as peacemaker.
Biosca attempted to appease Willy Caballero who was stripped, ready to come on but was left humiliated like Sarri.
When the dust had settled, Sarri insisted: "It was a big misunderstanding. I understood he had cramp, so I didn't want the goalkeeper to go to the penalties in that condition.
"I realised the situation after three or four minutes when the doctor arrived on the bench.
"I wanted Caballero on the pitch but the goalkeeper wanted to let me know he was in condition to go to the penalties.
"It was only a big misunderstanding. Kepa was right, but in the wrong way.
"Wrong in the way he conducted himself, but mentally he was right because he was able to go to the penalties. But I realised everything only when the doctor arrived on the bench. Not before."
Kepa toed the party line by adding: "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.
"I know if you see it from outside, it is not the best image. I have spoken with the boss.
"I understand that on television, on social media, they're talking about this but I am here to explain it, to say that it wasn't my intention to go against the manager. We have spoken and I was only trying to say I'm fine."
Sarri confirmed he would speak to Kepa again about his conduct, saying: "I was really angry. I want to talk with him because he needs to understand that, for a misunderstanding, we can get into trouble. Especially with you (the press)."
Roman Abramovich was not at Wembley and Sarri admitted he did not know where Chelsea's owner was, despite maintaining he still had control of his players.
Asked what Abramovich would have made of the final, Sarri replied: "I don't know. If the television worked well, a good performance. It depends on the television, I think. I don't know where the president is, so the signal might not have been good."
On his relationship with the Chelsea squad, Sarri added: "If you saw the match, you can understand very well that, today, the players played exactly the match we prepared. So I think I am in control; fully in control of the situation."
City manager Pep Guardiola praised Chelsea's performance but preferred to focus on his own players.
"Yes, of course," said Guardiola, when asked if a first trophy of the season can have wider significance. "It's the only country where you can win a title in February. We have three more to play for - the Premier League, Cup and Champions League.
"Now it's about how the players are against West Ham on Wednesday. But it's important for the mood."
Their immediate concerns are muscle injuries to Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte and the cumulative extra fatigue and effort from this energy-sapping final.
Sarri finally showed that there can be a Plan B - B for block - as Jorginho did in body-checking Sergio Aguero straight from the kick-off, with just two seconds on the clock.
And B was also for battle as Chelsea kept their shape, inviting City to attack. It was a kind of classic 'rope-a-dope' even if City failed to land any blows before Eden Hazard smartly led the counter.
City were dominant throughout but they rarely threatened in a manner that would have greatly concerned their opponents. A weak shot from Nicolas Otamendi was their only effort on target until Azpilicueta blocked a close-range, goal-bound Aguero shot deep into extra time after a fine run by Sterling.
They did have the ball in the net, in the second-half, after Aguero swivelled and fired home when a miscued shot dropped to him.
It was ruled out for offside, with the video assistant referee backing the decision even though it was tight.
Chelsea also had their VAR controversy at the end of normal time when Hazard ran through but was pulled up for offside. Except the protocol, with the VAR system, is to allow play to continue and then review it.
Again replays showed that it was tight and, probably, Hazard was more clearly onside than Aguero.
© Daily Telegraph, London