Extra-time substitutions before penalty shootouts are becoming the norm.
Gareth Southgate was criticised for his pre-shootout calls for England in the Euro 2020 final with Italy, but no-one has felt the impact of the trend more than Kepa Arrizabalaga at Chelsea.
After coming on to save two spot kicks against Villarreal in Wednesday’s Super Cup final shootout, Kepa has now taken up both roles of extra-time villain and penalty hero – after he refused to be substituted for the Blues in the 2019 Carabao Cup final against Manchester City.
The Spaniard went to ground in extra-time with an injury and called for the physio to check over it. Former Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri called for Willy Caballero to come on in Kepa’s place with the shootout looming, but then everything spiraled into chaos.
With Caballero stripped off and the substitution board going up, Kepa then defied his manager’s call. The Spanish goalkeeper waved his finger in disapproval at the proposed switch, claiming he was fine after all.
Kepa remained defiant, Caballero looked awkward on the touchline and Sarri exploded with rage. The under-fire Italian boss almost walked away down the tunnel, away from the game, away from the job almost.
The Chelsea goalkeeper’s case wasn’t helped by failing to guide the Blues to a shootout victory. This was a moment that threatened the end of the Spaniard’s career at Stamford Bridge, just months after the Blues spent £72million for him.
Kepa was dropped for Chelsea’s next game against Fulham as Sarri had to make a statement to the rest of his squad – and the rest of English football too. But Kepa was reinstalled as No 1 and the incident swept under the carpet by all parties.
The goalkeeper, now understanding his wrongdoing and subsequent punishment, told The Players’ Tribune earlier this summer: ‘It was all a big misunderstanding.
‘He (Sarri) thought I couldn’t go on. My intention, right or wrong, had only been to waste time to help the team. I didn’t have any serious problem that was going to keep me from continuing to play.
‘I tried to signal that I was O.K., 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. When the fourth official raised the board, clearly I should have come off, and I’m sorry I didn’t.
‘Inside the club it was no big deal. I had a chat with the boss, we talked about how we had each seen the situation, and we cleared the air.’
Unlike Sarri, Kepa managed to get a second season at Stamford Bridge – but the 2019-20 campaign with Frank Lampard saw the Spaniard lose his No 1 goalkeeper status following a string of mistakes.
He was half-way to becoming a £72m flop after recording the worst save percentage in Premier League history in 2020. Yet Thomas Tuchel has given Kepa a fresh lease of life at Stamford Bridge, even with Edouard Mendy now as the first-choice stopper.
Kepa’s Belfast heroics in the Super Cup final was not a one-off decision by Tuchel. The German head coach revealed that swapping goalkeepers in extra-time was planned during a FA Cup tie with Barnsley during his first month in charge of the Blues.
‘This was not spontaneous,’ Tuchel said. ‘We talked about it with the goalkeepers before my first cup game against Barnsley.
‘We had some statistics that we prepared and they showed that Willy Caballero is the best in penalty defending and they analysed like a thousand penalties from Willy. Second best was Kepa and third best was Edou.
‘The analysis and goalkeepers coaches introduced me to the data, we spoke to all three goalkeepers very open and told them this can happen in knockout games.
‘If we have a change left that we take this change not for personal reasons but to help the team, to improve the chances as we have this proof off statistic.
‘It’s fantastic Edou accepts it. He puts his ego to one side when we take this decision and he is aware why we do this, this is the key. He knows it’s not a sudden idea of the manager.
‘There is proof that Kepa is better in this discipline and these guys are team players. I’m happy for Kepa and Edou to have a goalkeeper like this who is not too proud to step out of the field and happy to take this for the team.’
Caballero left Chelsea earlier this summer, meaning Kepa is now the Blues’ first-choice penalty shootout option, with the Spaniard also showing his spot kick heroics in the 2019 Europa League semi-final with Eintracht Frankfurt.
As the new season comes along, the Blues will be eyeing up success in all four trophies – and Kepa Arrizabalaga will be at the heart of that bid.
The 26-year-old still has a role to play at Stamford Bridge despite being a back-up to Mendy, while the fans are now more confident about seeing him line up between the sticks.
This is an example why Tuchel’s tinkering style is so well-suited to the west London club. The German head coach made 39 tweaks to his starting line-up in his first 10 Chelsea league matches – more than any other boss at the time – and has continued his rotational policy ever since.
The Blues have enjoyed considerable success since Tuchel arrived in west London with a harmonious squad ignoring the intense competition for places. The best example of this was Mendy celebrating Kepa’s penalties despite Chelsea’s No 1 being hauled off for the shootout.
This bodes well for a side that are set to have seven players competing for three striker spots this term. Tuchel has to keep the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic happy as they await Romelu Lukaku’s imminent arrival.
But the way the German has managed the goalkeeper scenario – this should be no problem for the Blues coach at all.