Manchester City retained their EFL Cup crown with a 4-3 penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea following a goalless draw that saw Kepa Arrizabalaga incredibly defy under-pressure Maurizio Sarri.
City hammered Chelsea 6-0 at the Etihad Stadium two weeks ago but Maurizio Sarri’s switch of system to use Eden Hazard as a false nine – with Gonzalo Higuain missing out at Wembley on Sunday – boosted his side’s defensive solidity.
Pep Guardiola claimed pre-match it was too early to talk about City’s chances of winning a historic quadruple despite being in the FA Cup quarter-finals, leading their last-16 Champions League tie with Schalke and sitting neck-and-neck with Liverpool in the Premier League.
A controversial start saw Jorginho escape punishment after appearing to elbow Sergio Aguero straight from kick-off before referee Jon Moss gave no foul when Oleksandr Zinchenko’s challenge halted the progress of N’Golo Kante as the midfielder ran through on the City goal.
City began to find their rhythm and Sergio Aguero rifled a shot over the crossbar before his deflected effort was easily claimed by Kepa.
The holders thought they had opened the scoring in the 56th minute but Aguero was rightly flagged offside and a VAR check upheld the decision.
Kante should have broken the deadlock but, after Hazard’s dazzling run deceived City’s half-time substitute Vincent Kompany, he blazed the perfect cutback over the crossbar.
Aguero and Sterling could not find a finishing touch in an extra-time goalmouth scramble before City’s record goalscorer was denied by Kepa.
The Blues keeper required treatment twice in the added period but refused to be replaced by Caballero, who saved three penalties for City in the 2016 final, leaving Sarri furious.
Jorginho’s tame effort was saved by Ederson to hand Chelsea an immediate advantage, but Kepa denied Leroy Sane and David Luiz hit the post.
Hazard’s Panenka effort kept Chelsea alive but Sterling crashed his strike in off the crossbar to retain the title for City and keep their quadruple hopes alive.
What does it mean? Players buy into Sarri system
Sarri has been wedded to his philosophy of possession above all else but there were signs at Wembley he is willing to compromise.
City dominated the ball – as they almost always do – but the Blues mucked in with hard work to deny the Premier League champions space in attack.
Sarri also sent on youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek as his first two substitutions in a popular move with fans, but Kepa’s refusal to be substituted showed he lacks complete control.
Luiz shores up Chelsea defence
Often treated as something of a joke figure by supporters, Luiz produced an outstanding performance in the heart of the Chelsea defence. He was completely dominant in the air.
De Bruyne focus lacking
After missing so much of the season through injury, City’s playmaker Kevin De Bruyne lacked his usual sharpness and incision on the ball and he was replaced by winger Sane.
De Bruyne overhit a surprising number of passes and crosses, contributing to City’s inability to open up the Chelsea defence, while he wasted a 73rd-minute free-kick in an enticing position.
City’s Premier League title challenge continues on Wednesday with the visit of West Ham. On the same day, Chelsea welcome Tottenham to Stamford Bridge in a big London derby.
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