City win League Cup as Chelsea keeper defies Sarri
Manchester City retained the English League Cup in a shootout after Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri’s hopes of a long-awaited first trophy ended in bizarre fashion on Sunday with his keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga openly disobeying orders.
Raheem Sterling smashed home the decisive spot kick as City clinched the English season’s first silverware 4-3 on penalties, with the Wembley showpiece having ended 0-0 after extra time.
The clash, the first between the clubs in a major final, had slowly warmed up, but took the most unlikely of twists deep into the extra period when Arrizabalaga saved from Sergio Aguero.
It appeared the young Spanish keeper had injured himself and Sarri immediately told substitute Willy Caballero to get ready to come on for the closing seconds as penalties loomed.
With his number being held up, Arrizabalaga refused to obey the call to depart, leaving Sarri fuming in the technical area.
At one point the raging Italian coach appeared to walk down the tunnel, before returning to brief his players for penalties.
Caballero still looked poised to take over but it was Arrizabalaga who stood guard in front of the Chelsea fans.
The Spaniard allowed Sergio Aguero’s weak penalty to creep under his body into the net but then redeemed himself with a brilliant save from Leroy Sane leaving the shootout at 2-2.
Chelsea’s David Luiz thumped his penalty against the post, however, to hand the advantage back to the Manchester side and, although Hazard scored, Sterling smashed his kick high past Arrizabalaga to send City’s fans into delirium.
Sarri began the match under pressure with his inconsistent side having lost five of their last 11 games, including a 6-0 thrashing at City in the Premier League and a 2-0 home loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round.
The United defeat provoked fury from Chelsea fans who have lost patience with the former Napoli manager’s tactics.
A fortnight after the humiliation by Pep Guardiola’s side’s, Sarri’s tactics were spot on as Chelsea stifled City’s much-vaunted attack and created the better chances.
Had N’Golo Kante not blazed over after being teed up by Hazard’s brilliant run midway through the second half, the headlines could have been about Sarri winning his first silverware after 29 years as a manager.
Instead, he was left answering questions about what looked like a blatant case of a player undermining his authority.
“I misunderstood the problem and only realised the situation when the doctor arrived at the bench,” he said later.
“It was a big misunderstanding because I understood the keeper had cramp and was unable to go to the penalties. But it was not cramp and he could go to the penalties.”