The quadruple is still on for Manchester City as they beat Chelsea on penalties in the Carabao Cup final. After playing a cagey 0-0 match for the first 120 minutes, Raheem Sterling converted the match-winning spot kick to give City their first trophy of the season.
Maurizio Sarri has been criticised for his unwillingness to adapt his tactics to different opponents, but on Sunday, he did just that. Scrapping the pressing system he employed in the recent 6-0 defeat to City at the Etihad Stadium, Sarri opted for a much more pragmatic approach, returning to the formation and the system that earned Chelsea a 2-0 win over City in December.
On that day, he bemoaned the lack of a striker that he wanted. On Sunday, he simply chose not to use the striker he wanted from the start, opting for Eden Hazard as the lone striker and allowing Willian and Pedro to help support the flanks.
It was a well-executed plan that limited City to just three shots on target for the entire match, two of which came as the two sides were tiring late into extra time.
Based on Chelsea’s performance and fight, the story should be about how the resilience of the old Chelsea is back and how Sarri was able to stifle a City attack that tore his side apart just a week ago.
Instead, the main talking point of the match came in the last minute of extra time when Kepa Arrizabalaga openly refused to be substituted. The Chelsea goalkeeper missed Thursday’s match against Malmo with a hamstring problem and had required treatment towards the end of normal time amidst a number of stretches.
Near the end of extra time, Arrizabalaga went down again holding the back of his leg and requiring treatment. But as Sarri attempted to replace him with Willy Caballero, Arrizabalaga furiously signaled to the bench that he wanted to continue despite the fourth official readying the board to signal the substitution.
Much gesturing and yelling occurred, with Sarri looking irate at his goalkeeper, even going so far as to attempt to head down the tunnel before the penalty shootout even took place.
Arrizabalaga won the battle of wills and was allowed to continue, but Sarri continued to fume and had to be kept away from his keeper by Antonio Rudiger as Chelsea were preparing for penalties.
But in all truth, the match probably should not have even reached extra time. City created very little in the way of chances. Sergio Aguero’s tame shot in the 40th minute was the only shot on target that City mustered for the duration of normal time; a testament to Chelsea’s defending.
But N’Golo Kante should have scored on 67 minutes when Hazard was finally able to get behind the City defence. Hazard was able to get to the byline and pull a ball back for Kante who blasted the ball over the bar from 12 yards out.
Pedro had a chance to score moments later as another slaloming run from Hazard had City back on their heels. Hazard found Pedro in space to the right side of the penalty area, but instead of shooting, Pedro opted to try and return the ball to Hazard only for Oleksander Zinchenko to block the cross.
Sarri broke his substitution pattern and sent Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek on for Pedro and Ross Barkley. Hudson-Odoi threatened City every time he had the chance to run at them, but Loftus-Cheek nearly produced a late moment that would have stopped the match from heading to extra time.
Loftus-Cheek was the target of a long pass to the centre circle, and in one fluid motion, Loftus-Cheek controlled the pass and sent a flick through the City back line for Hazard to race clear on goal. But the linesman’s flag had gone up for offside, and VAR showed that the decision was close but not close enough to overturn.
City had two chances to score in extra time, the first coming when Sergio Aguero’s shot was deflected just enough by Cesar Azpilicueta to allow Arrizabalaga to save. The second came when Rudiger slipped and allowed Leroy Sane to race clear. Aguero’s low shot was saved by Arrizabalaga, leading to the tantrum just before penalties.
Arrizabalaga had a chance to make amends and was able to save a penalty from Leroy Sane. But Aguero mishit a penalty along the ground that Arrizabalaga should have saved but sort of dove over the top.
Jorginho had a tame penalty saved by Ederson and David Luiz hit the post, allowing Sterling to step up and score decisively from the spot.