Growing up in the shadow of this stadium, Raheem Sterling no doubt dreamed of occasions like this. Not in his wildest imaginings, however, could his crowning moment have taken place in such surreal surroundings.
A match-winning penalty, sure. In a shoot-out, why not? For a trophy, certainly. Yet the chaos that unfolded around it. The confusion that embraced Chelsea minutes before the penalty drama.
No-one dreams that, because football doesn’t work like that. Sterling might as well have imagined his teeth falling out one by one, or deciding to score the winner in his Y-fronts, as a scenario in which Chelsea’s goalkeeper is substituted but decides instead to as good as tell his manager to get stuffed.
Publicly. In front of 80,000 fans. Who comes up with this Chelsea soap opera? Who writes this stuff? For if it is real, it is no way to run a football club.
The scenes prior to the shoot-out were some of the most dramatic that this competition, that any competition, has seen.
Kepa Arrizabalaga, Chelsea’s goalkeeper, had twice been down for treatment in second-half injury time. Each time he made a save, he needed work. Maurizio Sarri had, understandably, seen enough with penalties looming. He elected to bring on Willy Caballero, his replacement, who had performed magnificently in a League Cup final shoot out here before, for Manchester City against Liverpool.
Arrizabalaga said he was fine to continue. Then, as Caballero stood embarrassed in the pitchside technical area, he as good as refused to go, pouring out his frustration to team-mate David Luiz.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
CHELSEA: Kepa, Azpilicueta, Rüdiger, David Luiz, Emerson, Kanté, Jorginho, Barkley (Loftus-Cheek 88′), Willian (Higuain 95′), Hazard, Pedro (Hudson-Odoi 79′)
SUBS NOT USED: Caballero, Christiansen, Kovacic, Giroud
BOOKED: David Luiz, Rudiger, Jorginho
MANAGER: Maurizio Sarri
MANCHESTER CITY: Ederson, Zinchenko, Laporte (Kompany 45′), Otamendi, Walker, Fernandinho (Danilo 90′), Silva (Gundogan 78′), De Bruyne (Sane 85′), Bernardo, Sterling, Aguero
SUBS NOT USED: Muric, Mahrez, Foden
BOOKED: Fernandinho, Otamendi
MANAGER: Pep Guardiola
REF: Jon Moss
CHELSEA PENS: Jorginho (miss) Azpilicueta (score) Ederson (score) David Luiz (miss) Eden Hazard (score)
MAN CITY PENS: Gundogan (score) Aguero (score) Sane (miss) Bernardo Silva (score) Sterling (miss)
Referee Jon Moss got involved, but instead of telling Arrizabalaga his game was over, he acted as mediator, shutting between the disgruntled goalkeeper and his by now equally agitated manager.
The game was restarted with Arrizabalaga intact. Now Sarri really lost it. He waved his arms in fury, stormed down the tunnel as if sick of the lot of them, thought better of it, and reappeared. Caballero, a decent guy, now humiliated by the judgement of his team-mate, could be seen being counselled.
At the final whistle, Chelsea went into a huddle of disarray with Sarri at first appearing to be held back from confronting some of his players. When the shootout began, his talisman, Jorginho stepped up, hit a penalty as poor as Chelsea’s morale looked, and gave an easy save to Ederson’s left.
It wasn’t a shoot out that justified the protagonists. Sergio Aguero’s penalty was soft and went under Arrizabalaga body and when he saved from :Leroy Sane to put Chelsea level, it was Luiz his on-field ally, who stepped up and missed.
Given what happened the last time these teams met, nobody would blame Chelsea for setting up with a degree of caution.
On the evidence of the first-half, however, it would appear that Maurizio Sarri had taken the fans advice on what to do with the form of football that bears his name. There was nothing ambitious or expansive about this, little that suggested possession and passing were being prioritised.
When Pedro got an ineffectual header on a Willian free-kick after 25 minutes and 36 seconds, it represented Chelsea’s first touch in the Manchester City penalty area.
Eden Hazard had barely got into double figures with touches of the ball, when he finally got loose of Manchester City’s defensive shackles in the minute before half-time.