Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri and Kepa Arrizabalaga attempted to defuse the furore over the goalkeeper’s refusal to be substituted in Sunday’s Carabao Cup loss to Manchester City by insisting it was a misunderstanding.
The 24-year-old’s number was shown on the fourth official’s board, with Willy Caballero primed to come on in his place, late in extra-time of the Wembley clash.
Kepa, who missed last Thursday’s win over Malmo with a hamstring problem, had already required treatment for an apparent bout of cramp, but waved the substitution away, with Sarri livid.
The Spain goalkeeper saved Leroy Sane’s penalty in the shootout, but City won 4-3 as Jorginho had his effort saved and David Luiz hit a post before Raheem Sterling scored the decisive kick.
Kepa afterwards clarified in an interview and on social media his view of the incident.
“It was misunderstood. In no moment was it my intention to disobey, or anything like that, with the boss,” said Kepa, who signed from Athletic Bilbao last summer in a world record fee for a goalkeeper of £71.6million.
“He thought I couldn’t continue, and – fundamentally – I was trying to say that physically I was fine.”
Sarri’s position is precarious, but the performance, albeit in defeat, means his immediate future is almost certainly safe.
And the incident served to suggest he was being undermined by the goalkeeper.
Kepa admitted the images looked like he was defying Sarri, with whom he spoke in the aftermath of the loss.
“I have full respect for the coach and his authority,” Kepa wrote on social media.
International Football Association Board (IFAB) rules state a player can refuse to be substituted.
But former Chelsea captain John Terry had a strong message for Kepa.
“Once your number goes up you have to come off and show a bit of respect,” Terry said on Sky Sports.
The situation was clarified only after the medics who had been treating Kepa returned to the dugout.
However, the intervening period had seen Sarri angrily charge down the tunnel.
“Kepa was right, but wrong in the way he conducted himself,” Sarri said.
“I was really angry. I want to talk with him because he needs to understand that we can get in trouble, especially with you (the media).”
Chelsea stifled City two weeks on from a 6-0 humiliation which was their worst defeat in 28 years.
Despite Arrizabalaga’s actions, Sarri believes the performance showed his players are behind him.
“After this match I have to say that I’m sure,” he said. “Because they played exactly what I asked.”
City retained the League Cup in the first part of a potential quadruple.
Boss Pep Guardiola said: “We will suffer a lot for the next competitions, the cup and the Champions League and Premier League. Winning the title will help us for our mood going forward.”
Liverpool missed the chance to open up a three-point Premier League lead in a goalless draw at Manchester United, but the successes of the day were tempered by injuries to Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho, who face “weeks out”.