Kepa Arrizabalaga was the unlikely hero as Chelsea started the new season as they ended the last with a European trophy by beating Villarreal 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to win the UEFA Super Cup in Belfast.
The Spaniard, who has lost his place as number one since joining the club for a world record fee for a goalkeeper in 2018, was introduced late in extra-time as a substitute for the shootout by Thomas Tuchel.
Kepa famously refused to be replaced by former Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri in a League Cup final defeat to Manchester City two years ago.
But this time he rewarded his manager’s faith with saves from Aissa Mandi and Raul Albiol.null
“It was not spontaneous,” said Tuchel who explained the plan had been hatched in the FA Cup last season.
“We talked about it with the goalkeepers after the first cup game against Barnsley.
“Kepa has the best percentage at saving penalties, the analysing guys and goalkeeping coaches showed me the data. We spoke to the players that this could happen when we play in knockout games. It’s fantastic how Edouard (Mendy) accepted it.
“There is proof that Kepa is better in this discipline. They’re team players. Edouard does not show the pride to not step off the field. He was happy to do it for the team and take this for the team.”
Chelsea’s win over Manchester City in Porto to lift the Champions League for a second time in May was the culmination of a meteoric rise in Tuchel’s first five months in charge.