Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel revealed after his side’s UEFA Cup win on penalties that he had planned long ago to introduce Kepa Arrizabalaga.
The Spanish goalkeeper was his side’s hero in Belfast on Wednesday, saving the decisive spot-kick. Chelsea subsequently won the contest 6-5 to claim their second European title in three months. However, Kepa did not start the game. Instead, he came on late on in extra time in place of Edouard Mendy, who himself had impressed.
Chelsea played Europa League holders Villarreal at Windsor Park, but got penalties off to the worst possible start.
Kai Havertz missed the opening kick, but Aissa Mandi’s miss restored parity at 1-1 after two penalties. Soon after, Kepa stopped Raul Albiol’s penalty to help his side triumph.
Asked about the decision to sub in Kepa, though, Tuchel revealed that he made the move standard protocol ahead of an FA Cup fifth-round tie with Barnsley in February.
“It was not spontaneous,” the manager told BT Sport. “We talked about it with the goalkeepers when we came and had the first cup game against Barnsley.
“So we had some statistics, we were well prepared, that Kepa has the best percentage in saving penalties. The analysing guys, the goalkeeping coaches, showed me the data.
“Then we spoke with the players, that this can happen when we play in knockout games and since then, they know.
“It’s fantastic how Edu [Mendy] accepts it, this talk. It was the morning before the cup game in Barnsley and since then they know.
“Of course, we needed to do what’s good for the team. If we needed a sixth change, it was necessary.”
Tuchel added that the move also shows the team spirit within his camp.
“There is proof that Kepa is better in this discipline and these guys are true team players,” he said.
“I’m happy for Kepa and I’m happy for Edu that they have a goalkeeper like this who shows the pride in stepping off the field. He’s happy to do it for the team.”
Tuchel proud of Chelsea display
Before the penalty kicks, the Super Cup final finished 1-1 after 90 minutes and extra time. Hakim Ziyech scored the opener, but had to go off with an innocuous, but nasty-looking, shoulder injury.
In the second half, Villarreal heaped pressure on the Blues and Gerard Moreno equalised.
“It was tough, 120 minutes out of more or less nothing,” Tuchel said of his side’s performance. “We were very strong in the first 30, 35 minutes. Then we lost easy balls after our goal.
“Second half, we were too passive. Too many ball losses, they equalised, well deserved. Right after we conceded the goal we were very strong right until the end again.
“We invested more until the 120th minute and deserved to win.”
Asked about Ziyech’s injury, Tuchel said: “If you take a player out during the first half, it’s serious and unfortunately he was a very decisive player.”
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