The first major final of the season took place at Wembley today as Manchester City took on a beleaguered Chelsea.
Pep Guardiola was looking for an incredible 21st piece of silverware whilst Maurizio Sarri was contesting his first ever major final.
In a tight game, both sides largely cancelled each other out, and it was ultimately Man City who triumphed on penalties in the 59th League Cup Final. Here’s a look at five things we learned from a dramatic match.
Chelsea learn lessons from Etihad drubbing
All eyes were on Maurizio Sarri going into this cup final. The Italian was under immense pressure after recent results and desperately needed a response from his team. It was clear from the opening minutes that his side had learned the hardest of lessons from their 6-0 thrashing at City earlier this month.
Their midfield was so much more wholesome as they flooded men deep to force a more patient approach from City. Chelsea played a 4-5-1 out of possession as they worked hard to stop the ball going wide to Sterling and Silva. They made their superior opponents work much harder as they piled bodies in front of every move from Pep Guardiola’s men.
If nothing else, they got through the opening 25 minutes unscathed which was a marked improvement from their last match against the champions. They limited City to just one shot on target in 45 minutes, despite yielding 68% possession to them. Sarri should take heart from the energy and work rate his side showed, which was a marked improvement from recent weeks.
One way first half traffic shows the growing chasm between the teams
Cup finals are often great levellers if there is an underdog taking on a big boy. This though was two successful top six teams contesting the season’s first silverware and the gulf in class between them was staggering at times in the first half.
Chelsea huffed and puffed but it was one-way traffic from Pep Guardiola’s men in the opening exchanges. City’s movement was crisp and sharp as they turned the screw at Wembley during the opening period. As it stands in the league, there are there 15 points separating the two teams and that growing chasm between them and the champions should be a real worry for Chelsea fans.
VAR fails to break deadlock
In an hour of sparse chances, Sergio Aguero did have the ball in the net on 57 minutes only to see a linesman’s flag for offside. Although the neutrals had been starved of action, they were at least treated to some VAR drama as Jonathon Moss consulted the video referee to double check what looked a close decision.
It was the tightest of calls but the goal remained very much chalked off. Had it been given, it would have been the first of its kind in a major cup final in England.
Chelsea’s response makes a game of it
The VAR scare served as a wakeup call for Chelsea and they started to come alive. The game needed it too as the play opened up in the final 30 minutes.
Sarri should be pleased with his side’s efforts as they began to take the game to City. They had the best chance of the match by far when the excellent Eden Hazard cut a ball back in front of goal on the left only to see N’Golo Kante fire high over the bar from close range, when the net should have bulged.
Hazard was also hastily flagged for offside towards the end of regulation time, it was a wrong call and probably cost Chelsea a late winner as the game went into extra time.
Late show of player power as Arrizabalaga refuses to come off
In the dying embers of stoppage time, Sarri attempted to bring on serial shoot out hero Willy Caballero for Kepa Arrizabalaga, who seemed to be struggling with cramp. The young Spanish keeper had other ideas though as he gestured wildly towards the touchline and incredibly, refused to come off the pitch.
Sarri was left humiliated and furious as he was overruled by his own player at Wembley. As penalties loomed large, you have to question what that did to Chelsea’s mentality.
Arrizabalaga will be devastated to have let Aguero’s penalty slip through his hands in the shoot out as well, as his side lost the cup in the lottery of the penalty shoot out. It remains to be seen what damage he has done to his relationship with the Chelsea manager after such a bizarre twist in the tale.