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Chelsea star faces awkward reunion after Enzo Maresca appointment is confirmed

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga during 2019 Carabao Cup final penalty shootout
-Credit: (Image: Tom Jenkins)


Kepa Arrizabalaga could be set for an awkward reunion when he returns to Chelsea this summer.

The goalkeeper spent the season on loan at Real Madrid, where he was limited to 20 total appearances, but still has a year left on his Chelsea contract. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper, 29, may hope for a fresh start next term under new Chelsea boss Enzo Maresca but is already well-acquainted with one of his assistant coaches, Willy Caballero.

The pair were team-mates when Arrizabalaga refused to be replaced by the Argentine during the 2019 Carabao Cup final, leading to extraordinary scenes at Wembley. Arrizabalaga wrongly believed manager Maurizio Sarri was making the change due to him going down with cramp in extra time.

Eager to stay on for the penalty shootout against Manchester City, Arrizabalaga infamously wagged his finger, ignoring the fourth official’s board; much to the frustration of Caballero and Sarri. Chelsea went on to lose the shootout and Arrizabalaga issued an apology for the mix-up.

"I tried to signal that I was OK, that I wasn't injured. But we were at Wembley in front of more than 80,000 people, so of course Sarri didn't understand me," Kepa told the Players’ Tribune. "When the fourth official raised the board, clearly I should have come off, and I'm sorry I didn't.

"I was wrong, and I am sorry for everyone who was involved: for Maurizio Sarri, who it seemed like I had undermined in public; for Willy (Caballero), a team-mate and a great professional; and for all my team-mates and Chelsea fans who had to put up with everything – all the noise that was generated during the game and then in the days after."

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Arrizablaga was briefly dropped and fined by Chelsea for ignoring the planned substitution, with Caballero regarded as Chelsea’s best option in the shootout. Former goalkeeping coach Massimo Nenci explained that Sarri had not been influenced by Arrizabalaga’s fitness, but that the Spain international showed instant remorse.

“All the team was angry in the dressing room," Nenci told Daily Mail. "But first of all, I want to tell you that Kepa is a very, very good guy. And when he recognised his mistake he cried, he cried. He is a very good guy. He was saying, ‘I'm sorry mister, I'm sorry. I didn't understand’.”

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri looks on next to substitute goalkeeper Willy Caballero during 2019 Carabao Cup final
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri looks on next to substitute goalkeeper Willy Caballero during 2019 Carabao Cup final -Credit:Nick Potts/PA Wire

Despite the awkward encounter, the par remained team-mates for another two seasons. Arrizabalaga would earn his redemption just a few months later, saving two penalties in a semi-final shootout against Eintracht Frankfurt on Chelsea’s route to winning the Europa League.

Now, Caballero and Arrizabalaga face a fresh dynamic. Caballero is one of several additions to Maresca’s backroom staff, with the pair having played together at Malaga until 2012. The ex-Chelsea goalkeeper, 42, has followed Maresca from Leicester City, where he helped the Foxes clinch the Championship title.

Speaking about what Caballero added to his coaching team at the start of his Leicester reign, Maresca explained: “I knew very well, Willy, because we played together 10 years ago. Since we played together, we always talk about football. I knew his intention was to start as a coach and leave football as a player. So I saw what I was looking for in an assistant.

“Now he’s in charge of set-pieces. Him and Danny [Walker] both. They are also in charge to make some extra work with some young players to try to improve them.”