In the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, Louis van Gaal made a decision that shocked viewers around the world.
After extra time, the Netherlands manager brought off goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for backup Tim Krul. Standing one inch taller, van Gaal argued that the then-Newcastle United stopper would help the Dutch win the shoot-out.
Perhaps this tactical triumph inspired Chelsea’s manager during the League Cup final. It might have been the platform for Maurizio Sarri to earn some much-needed support from the fans.
Instead, the opposite was achieved. A bizarre episode followed the manager’s attempts to substitute goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga for Willy Caballero.
In Brazil, Krul made two saves and the ‘Oranje’ were victorious in the shoot-out, winning 4-3. At Wembley, Kepa made a scene – to say the least – before Manchester City claimed the first silverware of the season.
Kepa adds to shoot-out drama
After 120 minutes of play and with penalties looming, the last thing any player or manager needs is an unwelcome distraction. For Sarri, Caballero’s penalty-saving prowess and Kepa’s cramp were more than enough reason to make the switch.
However, the Spanish goalkeeper saw things differently and refused to leave the field. Sarri, dejected and angry, stormed down the tunnel – understandably – whilst referee Jon Moss looked as confused as everyone else.
In the shoot-out, Kepa may have made an excellent save to deny Leroy Sane’s effort, but a weak effort by Sergio Aguero crept under his midriff.
With Caballero and Chelsea fans watching on, the shoot-out was lost 3-4. The lack of the Argentine goalkeeper could have been vital.
Formerly of Manchester City, Caballero won the 2016 League Cup final against Liverpool on penalties. In that final, he made three consecutive saves to help his team win the shoot-out 3-1.
The 37-year-old’s insight into some of Manchester City’s penalty takers could also have helped swing the balance in the contest.
The fallout for Sarri and Chelsea
Unwelcome drama during a cup final loss could not have come at a worse time for Sarri. Recent thumpings by Bournemouth and Manchester City in the league and FA Cup fifth round defeat at the hands of Manchester United have piled the pressure on the Italian.
Blues fans’ patience is also running out with Jorginho, with the midfielder in the crosshairs after a series of poor performances. Missing Chelsea’s first penalty of the shoot-out will do nothing to help Sarri’s £50m signing’s popularity.
Sixth in the league, Chelsea’s only hope of claiming something positive from this season rest on the Europa League, though Sarri seems unlikely to stay on past the summer regardless of whether he wins his first trophy of his career.
Both Sarri and Kepa have blamed the incident on misunderstandings. The fallout, however, will continue behind the scenes as speculation about the manager’s control of the dressing room continues.
The performances of £70m signing of Kepa had arguably been one of the highlights of Chelsea’s campaign. In breaking the record fee for a goalkeeper, Chelsea replaced Thibaut Courtois with an excellent player who has stood out while many outfield have struggled.
Perhaps most disturbingly for those fans who have given up on Sarri, Kepa’s status in the side will now be at risk and his future at the club called into question.
However Chelsea move forward from a fiasco of a final, the timing of the incident could not have been worse for Sarri as he looks to rebuild after a torrid month. Up next, Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday for the Blues.