Where do Sarri and Kepa go from here at Chelsea?

Extraordinary events

Heading into extra-time in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final, it seemed as if Chelsea were on the road to redemption against Manchester City.

Having completely disgraced themselves in their 6-0 drubbing at the Etihad Stadium, the team put in a performance at Wembley that the supporters could take pride in. They went toe-to-toe with the Premier League champions, keeping them out for 120 minutes and had it not been for a late contentious offside call against Eden Hazard in stoppage time, could’ve even won it before extra-time.

Yet that completely changed when Kepa incredibly refused to be substituted before penalties, with Willy Caballero ready to take his place in goal. Disobeying team orders to take a penalty is one thing, but turning your back when being substituted was a sign of the complete lack of respect Maurizio Sarri now commands in the dressing room.

Chelsea’s players may not have downed tools for him at Wembley, but the actions of Kepa certainly indicate that Sarri’s position at the club is getting as close to untenable as possible.

The furious reaction of Sarri indicated the frustration he currently feels, with few buying his excuse of miscommunication at the full-time whistle. His reaction to the snub told its own story and that Kepa knew exactly what he was doing.

"It was misunderstood. In no moment was it my intention to disobey or anything like that with the boss," said Chelsea’s 24-year-old keeper.

"It was two or three minutes of confusion until the medics got to the bench and they explained everything well.

"He thought I couldn't continue, and - fundamentally - I was trying to say that physically I was fine."

Kepa

Will either return?

Sarri’s decision to protect his player in the decision is a surprising one to say the least, particularly when you consider his fury in the heat of the moment and the fact that he has already publicly called out his players.

The Italian has already shown his willingness to show tough love to his players in the first half of this season, a particularly risky tactic given the history of this group of Chelsea players and the fate of previous managers.

Chelsea return to Premier League action in a huge game on Wednesday night as they face Tottenham Hotspur in a London derby at Stamford Bridge. It's a huge game for their top-four hopes with Arsenal moving into 4th on Sunday after beating Southampton, leaving Chelsea four points off the Champions League places with a game in hand.

Ahead of such an important game it remains to be seen whether or not Kepa will keep his place in goal or whether they will go with understudy Caballero. Sarri will know how important it is for him to have his best XI on the field, but playing Kepa could certainly have long-term implications on the Italian at Stamford Bridge.

He was completely undermined by his no.1 at Wembley on Sunday and allowing him to get away with it by playing him on Wednesday night could lower his status even further amongst the players. Player power has been an issue for managers at Chelsea for some time now and will likely only get worse for Sarri if Kepa is perceived as getting away with his actions.

On the other hand, this could prove to be a vital game in Chelsea’s season and losing at home to Tottenham would further ramp up the pressure on the Italian’s shoulders. In many ways it's a no-win situation for Sarri.

Given the current state of affairs, it seems tough to see a way in which the 60-year-old remains at the club past the end of the season, barring what would have to be a pretty dramatic turn of events between now and the end of May.

Sarri Chelsea

Has this ever happened before?

Players going against manager’s wishes isn’t something new, with it happening on a number of occasions particularly in more recent times. Footballers feel more entitled and have greater egos than ever before, often leading to them believing as if they know best, such as was the case with Kepa at Wembley.

Lukasz Fabianski pulled off a very similar act back in 2017 during his time at Swansea after suffering a rib injury in their Premier League game against Tottenham Hotspur.

On that evening, Tottenham were trailing 1-0 when Fabianski went down injured with the Polish ‘keeper determined to stay on the pitch. It was ultimately against manager Paul Clement’s wishes, who wanted to bring on Kristoffer Nordfeldt for the final minutes of the game.

Like Kepa - who saw Sergio Aguero’s penalty slip underneath his body despite going the right way - the decision went against the former Arsenal man as he conceded three times in the closing stages, leading to a 3-1 win for Spurs.

Both Carlos Tevez and Nikola Kalinic have also been in high-profile situations involving substitutions in recent years. Tevez refused to warm up during Manchester City’s Champions League clash with Bayern Munich in 2011, leading to him not playing for the club for the next five months.

As for Kalinic, he refused to go on as a substitute for Croatia last summer in a warm-up friendly against Nigeria ahead of the World Cup and was subsequently released from their 23-man squad, missing out on their historic run to the final as a result.

Lukasz Fabianski West Ham

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