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Sarri fumes as Kepa refuses Chelsea sub (video)

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Maurizio Sarri‘s team put in a fabulous performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. Willian, Eden Hazard, Jorginho, and the rest of the Blues squad gave their all on the Wembley pitch, a brilliant 120 minutes for Sarri who seemed to be nearing the end of his rope as manager of Chelsea.

It all went wrong at the end of extra time, in a moment that may prove the end of his tenure.

As extra time neared its close, goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who was risked in the final despite a recent hamstring injury, appeared to be clearly struggling after making a diving save on a Sergio Aguero effort on the doorstep of the goal mouth. With penalties nearing and the battle for a Champions League place heating up in league play, Sarri chose to make the substitution and save his first-choice to fight another day, bringing on 2016 substitute hero Willy Caballero.

Except the substitution never happened, because Kepa refused. In a show of player power that could prove Sarri’s ultimate downfall, Kepa outright refused to be substituted and won his way back onto the pitch. The young spaniard regained his footing and repeatedly gestured back to the bench that he was ok to continue. Sarri still decided to substitute his goalkeeper, to the point where Caballero was waiting on the touchline next to the fourth official who wondered whether to raise his board or not.

As the game was delayed by the confusion, Kepa stayed on the field, a bewildered Caballero wandered back to the bench, and Sarri – fuming over the incident – nearly left the field of play completely, only brought back by his own common sense, still muttering to himself in anger.

The situation continued to boil over as extra time came to a close and Kepa wandered back to the touchline to prepare for penalties. Sarri had to be consoled by defender Antonio Rudiger as he looked to have stern words with Kepa, as the goalkeeper mingled with his teammates, acting like nothing had happened.

In the ensuing shootout, Kepa had Sergio Aguero’s penalty saved to level the score, but the ball went straight through his hands. While there’s no telling if the injury had anything to do with the mistake, there’s no doubt the moment will only increase Sarri’s regret. On the next penalty, Kepa made a spectacular save on Leroy Sane’s decent effort. Unfortunately, the earlier mistake loomed large as David Luiz clattered the post and Manchester City won the shootout.

The moment could prove monumental in Sarri’s tenure as Chelsea manager. While Kepa will come out of this looking like the villain, the manager is still in charge, and his inability to bring a player off and assert his power as boss could prove his undoing. Sarri had multiple opportunities to force Kepa’s hand, but ultimately chose not to bring his goalkeeper off. Had the substitution board gone up with Kepa’s number, it’s then on the referees to get the player off under threat of caution or ultimately sending off. At the end of the day, it was Sarri’s decision not to withdraw his goalkeeper. Already on thin ice, his weakness in the face of player rebellion will go a long way to prove he’s lost the locker room at Stamford Bridge and lost control of his squad.

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

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The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

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So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

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Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.

Lampard: Chelsea first leg loss ‘quite sobering,’ ‘harsh lesson’

Frank Lampard
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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard isn’t sugarcoating his side’s 3-0 first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you have to be brutally honest about it,” he said in televised remarks after the loss. “It’s quite sobering.”

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Lampard admitted that Bayern was firing on all cylinders at Stamford Bridge, and proffered tepid support for the idea of an unlikely comeback in Germany next month.

“The level of team they showed that they are, hence why they challenge in the Bundesliga and the Champions League,” he said, via Football.London. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better against them. It’s a reality check. Don’t look at anyone else apart from yourself.”

“We should never say the door is closed because our fans would never accept that. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture here. There’s a lot to be done.”

Sure is.

Chelsea leads fifth-place Manchester United by three points in the top four race and has a four-point edge on sixth-place Spurs in the scenario that fifth is enough for Champions League football.

That’s important because the UCL path back to the tournament looks like a massive ask. And Lampard said the players need to use Tuesday’s blowout loss at home “as a positive effect” moving forward.

But he also put it pretty plainly during his post-match comments.

“It was a harsh lesson,” Lampard said. “This is Champions League football.”