Maurizio Sarri said Kepa Arrizabalaga was “right but in the wrong way” about his refusal to be substituted in the closing stages of Chelsea’s penalty shootoot ;loss against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final.
Kepa angrily waved away Sarri’s attempts to replace him with Willy Caballero in the final seconds of Sunday’s match at Wembley, prompting the Chelsea head coach to erupt in anger at his goalkeeper and his bench and eventually allow the Spaniard to continue.
City triumphed 4-3 on penalties with Jorginho and David Luiz missing for Chelsea despite Kepa denying Leroy Sane from 12 yards, and after the match Sarri played down suggestions that the incident undermined his authority.
“It was a big misunderstanding,” Sarri said. “I understood he had cramp, so I didn’t want the goalkeeper to go to the penalties in that physical 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.
“Kepa only said: ‘No, no, I’m very well and able to continue.’ He understood I wanted to change for an injury. He was only telling me his word, saying he was really very well. So I think that, in 120 minutes, a discussion can happen with the players. I think we have to concentrate on football.”
Following the match, Kepa said he had apologized to Sarri and called it a “misunderstanding.”
“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,” Kepa said.
Former Chelsea captain John Terry said Kepa had failed to show respect to Sarri.
“Once your number goes up, you have to come off and show a bit of respect,” Terry said. “Deal with that after. That’s the last thing the players want.
“It’s certainly not the end of it — it has clouded a good performance. It’s taken the shine off a good performance. It’s disappointing. We’ll see what happens.”
Having stayed on the pitch, Kepa saw Sergio Aguero’s shootout penalty somehow squirm under his dive and, although he later kept out Leroy Sane, City prevailed.
Sarri sprang a tactical surprise at Wembley with Eden Hazard deployed as a false nine, and Chelsea’s more conservative game plan kept City in check with the 120 minutes yielding few clear chances for either team.
After a performance which should ease immediate questions about his job security, Sarri was keen to focus on the positives.
“I think that, if you saw the match, you can understand very well that the players played exactly the match we prepared [in training] yesterday,” Sarri added. “So I think I am in control, fully in control of the situation.
“So now I’d like to speak about something else. About our way of football today, because our way of football today was a little bit different from other matches.
“We decided not to press very high in every situation in which the opposing goalkeeper was involved, because they are very able to use the goalkeeper and come out of our pressing. So we decided, in every goal kick or pass back, to wait 20 metres lower. We did. And we conceded nothing to the best team in Europe.
“I’m really very happy because my feeling is that we are improving. We are improving because we could become a very solid team.”