As the final minutes of extra time in the Carabao Cup final ticked away, the action started to reach levels that had not been seen all game. No, it wasn’t because of a goal, it was just a rare act of defiance from a player towards an out-of-favor manager whose locker room troubles manifested themselves onto the pitch for an in-stadium crowd at Wembley Stadium, and viewers from all across the world, to see.
After Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga suffered an injury after taking part in some incredible defense to keep the game level, manager Maurizio Sarri started getting backup Willy Caballero ready to come in as a substitute as the reality of the game entering penalties loomed closer and closer. Sarri went to the fourth official, made his substitution known and returned to the bench as Caballero waited for Kepa to come off. But the Spanish keeper had decided he was fit to continue and went full-on Jordan Belfort essentially telling Sarri “I’m not fucking leaving.” What followed was a couple minutes of an uncomfortable stand-off between player and manager for all to see.
As he has done all season, Sarri threw his hands up, determined that his players were uncoachable and tried to walk away, going as far as the doors to the dressing room before turning back out. He chose to make this scene instead of, you know, asserting his managerial powers that allow him to force the substitution to happen. In theory, his decision to make the sub in the first place was informed by the medical staff who probably told him Kepa was unable to continue in the game. Any manager worth their shit would have done more to push this through, and gotten the referees involved if need be.
This, of course, isn’t meant to absolve Kepa’s role in all of this. Actively sabotaging your team in a cup final is some shitty behavior that tends to undermine the legitimacy of gripes players have towards their manager in the eyes of the public. His willingness to do this alone is sure to leave a sour taste on the tongues of coaches and teammates alike, and doesn’t bode well for his future with his team. Plus, there’s a chance he could have further aggravated the injury that he had already picked up, causing long term damage for the sake of making a dumb statement.
Anyways, after all that, the referee blew the whistle to signal the end of extra time, and both Chelsea and Manchester City convened with their respective managers to discuss the plan for penalties. Sarri was noticeably held back by some Chelsea players in an attempt to prevent some sort of scuffle or loud argument from breaking out. There was so much tension in that squad’s huddle, that the players had to essentially plan things out themselves while Sarri paced in anger, only to rejoin them at the end for a final word of encouragement.
So how did Kepa fare after demanding he remain in the most crucial moment of the game? He failed to save four out of five penalties, including one shot from Sergio Aguero that went right through his hand.
This is more or less how the Chelsea experience has gone not just this season, but in most seasons of the club’s recent history. For every brief moment of positivity, and semblance of glory, there’s an equal or opposite reaction of self-inflicted wounds that knock down whatever good the club had been building. It’s only a matter of time until the cycle starts back up again.