The Kepa Controversy with Kyron De Silva

I want to speak on the Kepa vs Sarri debacle that took place in the Carabo Cup Final on Sunday, but felt like I needed a diehard fan’s perspective on it. Enter Kyron De Silva.

Kyron De Silva:

The Carabao Cup final took place on Sunday. Manchester City triumphed over Chelsea on penalty kicks. The spotlight was on Chelsea as two weeks prior they were murked 6-0 by the reigning Premier League Champions. Blues fans had no idea what to expect from their team. Was Sarri going to pick the same XI and play the same way? Were the players actually going to show some interest and ambition?

Ok so we know how the game went. Chelsea were brilliant defensively and neither team was able to break the deadlock after 120 minutes.

In the final minutes of extra time, the board goes up signalling the substitution of Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (who had gone down twice with cramps) for back up keeper Willy Caballero but that’s where it all went sideways. Instead of taking a slow walk off the pitch to kill time before the imminent penalty shootout, Kepa began flailing his arms in the air and gesturing towards to touchline, refusing to come off the pitch.

I’m not going to go into further detail on the incident itself, however as a Chelsea fan, a lot of things bothered me about it.

Kepa Arrizabalaga

My first thoughts were “What madness is this?” and “Who do you think you are?” (Using slightly more blue language) To have the audacity to tell his manager “no” in the manner which he did is absolutely disgraceful. Kepa did apologise and claims that there was a “misunderstanding.” between him and Sarri.  

He claimed that the sub was being made because Sarri believed that he was injured but he was not, Sarri also came out and stated that this was the truth, although I’m not sure I believe them. For argument’s sake, I’m willing to give Kepa the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that there was a misunderstanding. All he had to do was run over to Sarri and explain himself and then let Sarri make the decision for himself but by staying in his box and waving his arms all over the place he effectively took the decision away from the manager.

Some fans theorized that he just wanted to be the hero for his side in his first Cup final appearance for the Blues but I’m not exactly sure how disrespecting your manager and undermining his authority in front of Wembley stadium and an international viewership could help you be a hero for your team. Kepa is a young talented goalkeeper with just about 6.5 years left on his Chelsea contract. I can almost guarantee that he’ll have more chances in future to be the hero (unless we turn into Arsenal or something) so he could’ve let this one go.

Kepa during the Carabao Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 24, 2019 in London, England.

I don’t think Kepa will get dropped for any extensive period of time due to the position he plays. If it were any other position where the gap between 1st choice and backup is smaller, I think it would be a different case. It would be very interesting to see if he plays in Chelsea’s next match though. I do think if we were playing a so-called smaller team he would be out of the squad for sure but the fact that Spurs are our next opponents, there’s a huge chance that he’ll start that game.

David Luiz & César Azpilicueta 

I would kill to know what David Luiz said to Kepa. The Brazilian, obviously aware that cameras would be on them, covered his mouth while talking to Kepa so while it was easy to read Gianfranco Zola lips when he was screaming “Come off Kepa” from the touchline, we have no idea what Luiz told the guy. One can only hope he was trying to get him to come off.

The Captain on the day and vice captain of the team, César Azpilicueta where were you bro? This was a situation where a captain should step in and firstly, encourage Kepa to leave the field, or at least act as the mediator between manager and player.

Maurizio Sarri

I firmly believe that Sarri shouldn’t have backed down. He should’ve made sure the substitution happened. He was a penalty shootout away from winning the first major trophy of his career. If Caballero went on and saved 2-3 penalties and Chelsea won, not only he would have won his first major trophy but he would have been credited for a brilliant tactical decision at a crucial moment in the game. (Remember when United fans called Louis Van Gaal a tactical genius for that sub in the 3rd place playoff at the 2014 World Cup? Good times, good times)

Unlike Kepa though, I’m not sure I could say that he’ll have many more chances to win things at Chelsea.

Yannick Quintal

(Get it. We made a subst- nevermind)

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that outside of the Basque Country, I knew of Kepa before he went mainstream.

It was in 2013 and I was playing Atletic Bilbao in Career mode (I like to develop sides and take over leagues instead of starting big). So I’m going through the squad and there he is: Kepa Arrizabalaga, fresh out of the academy a spry and ambitious 19 year old rated 66 with potential to reach 77. We would go on to make the likes of Ronaldo and Messi bend to our Bilbaoish wills.

Fast forward to 2018, he’s now become Chelsea’s goalkeeper of the future, and also the World’s Most Expensive Goalkeeper priced at $71.6 million. Since then, it hasn’t been pretty for the Blue Flag. Sarri’s lost the change room, players don’t like him, Hazard to Madrid, all that noise.

Now in all fairness he’s not having a horrible first season. 26 starts in his debut season in the Premier League, 11 clean sheets and 55 saves altogether. However, 13 of the 29 goals he’s conceded this season have occurred since 2019 started, including a shock 4 goals against Bournemouth and bludgeoning 6 goals against Manchester City.

Enter the Carabo Cup

Kyron set the scene for us already so let’s go straight to the moment.

Now I saw the substitution as both the fact that Kepa was cramping up and Sarri saw him unfit for the shootout and a tactical sub as as well.

Rüdiger looking on as Kepa stretches his calf.

Now if you’re going to stay on the field with cramping legs, that’s going to affect two things: your reaction time and your ability to dive. You generate that power from your legs to dive for the top or bottom corners of the goal. If even there’s a mental thought that, “Mmmmm my legs were cramped I better be careful,” stuff like this is going to happen to a GK in a penalty shootout:

Now let’s look at this from a tactical standpoint. Remember I said Kepa allowed 13 goals in a 5 game span? Sarri probably had that in the back of his mind as well. Maybe he figured he couldn’t handle that spotlight yet and give it to a more seasoned keeper. Also this stat:

Now who was that seasoned GK? None other than Willy Caballero who JUST so happened that his previous club happens to be MANCHESTER CITY where he called home for 3 seasons. He’s been around the likes of Sterling and Agüero. He’s trained with them for 3 seasons. Whether Sarri knew this or not, it would’ve or could’ve improved Chelsea’s chances of winning that shootout (or he concedes all of them ’cause football be like that sometimes).

“Kepa pls”

But if you’re Kepa, and you CHOOSE to usurp the manager’s decision, you better save every penalty that comes your way and not make Sarri look smaller and helpless than you and the other Chelsea players made him look for most of the season.

If you’re feeling indifferent about Sarri’s decision, at least walk over to him on the touchline and make a case for you staying out there instead of publicly waving him off. It is unacceptable from him and Sarri as a manager shouldn’t roll over and let him get his way in front of the thousands of spectators watching at Wembly and the millions watching at home. He should be dropped for the Tottenham game and maybe longer than that even.

Sarri and Gianfranco Zola during the Carabao Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 24, 2019 in London, England via TeamTalk

And Sarri come on man, show some authority! Sure the players probably lost all respect for you but at the end of the day, you’re their manager, their head coach. You still have to show that you still are in charge and you make the decisions of who’s out there on the pitch. In a moment of power you showed weakness. You just can’t allow that to happen.