Maurizio Sarri attempted to downplay the stunning incident involving his goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga near the end of extra time in the Carabao Cup final loss to Manchester City, chalking it all up to “a big misunderstanding” and claiming he has full control over his players.
The Chelsea goalkeeper seemed to be struggling with an injury after making a save late in the second half of extra time with the game 0-0, and Sarri readied backup Willy Caballero to come on in his place. Nevertheless, Kepa insisted he was fine, dramatically waving to the sideline that he wished to stay on.
[ RECAP: Man City tops Chelsea in Carabao Cup final ]
Mayhem ensued, and ultimately Sarri did not bring Caballero on despite showing clear intent to, and his frustration nearly boiled over as the Italian briefly left the pitch before coming back to the sideline.
“It was a big misunderstanding,” Sarri explained. “I wanted Caballero on the pitch but the goalkeeper [Kepa] wanted to let me know he was in condition to go to the penalties. It was a misunderstanding. Kepa was right, but in the wrong way he conducted himself.”
[ VIDEO: Watch bizarre incident as Kepa refuses sub ]
Sarri explained that he was simply unaware of the nature of Kepa’s injury, believing that cramps would render him unable to perform in the penalty shootout, but it was only when the physio came off the pitch and spoke to him that he realized that his goalkeeper could continue.
“I understood there was a problem and we needed a change,” Sarri told the media after the match. “I didn’t find out until the doctor arrived to the bench after a few minutes. I understood the goalkeeper had cramp and for me he was unable to go to penalties but the problem was not cramp so he was able to go to penalties.”
When asked why he took a long walk down the tunnel before turning around and returning to the pitch, Sarri said, “I needed only to return to be quiet. I think as I say, the goalkeeper understood that I asked for a change for his physical problem. He said, ‘I haven’t got a physical problem’, so he was right I think.”
Despite seemingly letting his goalkeeper off the hook, Sarri explained that he still needed to talk to the Spaniard to explain to him how his actions appear, because it can cause bigger problems. “I want to talk with him [Kepa] as he needs to understand we can get in trouble, especially with you [the media].”
With the incident, there were even louder calls to question Sarri’s position, but Sarri says he believes the team has improved and was proud of the performance against Manchester City. “I don’t know,” Sarri said when asked about his feelings on his security as manager. “You have to take the phone and ask the club. I can only answer with my opinion. Today I am really happy as my feeling is we’re improving. We could become a very solid team. I am really happy with the performance.”
Kepa also looked to clarify the incident, posting on social media to also call the incident a “misunderstanding” that occurred “in the heat of the final part of a match for a title.”