Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa REFUSES to be substituted, sending manager Sarri into meltdown
With just minutes left on the clock in extra time and the two teams locked at 0-0, under-fire Chelsea boss Sarri appeared to want to make the switch, reportedly in the belief that his 'keeper was injured ahead of penalties, instead planning to bring on veteran Argentine stopper Willy Caballero, who formerly played at City.
But Kepa, 24, refused to leave the pitch, leading to remonstrations with teammates before Sarri backed down and kept him on.
Sarri, whose job at Chelsea is on the brink after a series of poor results, was furious at the apparent insubordination, storming off down the tunnel before returning, and then having to be separated from his goalkeeper at the final whistle and before the penalty shootout.
Kepa's refusal to leave the pitch led to condemnation on social media and fueled the belief that the Italian manager had "lost the Chelsea dressing room."
Wow. This is bonkers. Not sure I’ve ever seen a player refuse to be subbed. Extraordinary.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) February 24, 2019
To add insult to injury, while Kepa saved from Leroy Sane, he was unable to stop City dispatching their other spot-kicks as Jorginho and David Luiz both missed for Chelsea to hand Pep Guardiola's team the title for a second successive season.
After his team's fate was sealed Sarri stormed off once again, but later asserted at the post-match press conference that he had mistakenly believed Kepa was injured, and that the 'keeper had been right to push to stay on the pitch.
Maurizio Sarri says the Kepa substitution confusion was 'a big misunderstanding' because he thought the player had cramp. However he says Kepa was right that he could continue although the way he went about it was wrong. Sarri says he needs to talk to Kepa now. #CHEMCI— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) February 24, 2019
However, it was a bitter end to what had been a solid Chelsea performance up to that point, and a vast improvement on the last time the two teams met a fortnight ago, when City had run out 6-0 winners.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given that mauling, Chelsea adopted a cautious approach at the outset, sitting back and allowing City to have most of the ball.
After a cagey, largely uneventful first half Sergio Aguero thought he’d given City the lead on 56 minutes when he had the ball in the net after a smart turn and finish, but it was ruled out for a marginal offside after consultation with the VAR.
Chelsea began to open up and be more ambitious going forward as the game wore on, with Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard fashioning a golden chance for N’Golo Kante as the Blues began to assert themselves.
Neither side found a breakthrough during normal time however as the game went into extra-time at Wembley.
Sarri brought on striker Gonzalo Higuain on for Willian in a show of attacking intent while fellow substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi also posed a threat, despite City continuing to see more of the ball.
But then came the flashpoint with Kepa and the shootout defeat, which will likely further diminsh the Italian's chances of a prolonged stay at Stamford Bridge.
The fallout from the bust-up is likely to dominate the headlines, and where Sarri, Kepa and Chelsea go from here will be a much-debated question.