Chelsea substitute goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga failed to make a stop and missed the decisive penalty in the shootout as his side lost to Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley on February 27.
In the closing stages of extra-time, Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, who had performed very well, was substituted for Kepa, who usually performs well in shootouts. The move was heavily speculated, as Tuchel has utilized similar tactics on other occasions, but it was still extremely controversial and heavily criticized both before and after the final whistle.
Despite previous success in this position, this time around the Spanish shot-stopper couldn't come up with the goods.
The penalty shootout went a full 11 rounds without a single miss, as Kepa wasn't able to keep out any of Liverpool's spot-kicks. Then, after Reds goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher scored his attempt from the spot with a blistering strike, Kepa ended up sending his penalty miles over the crossbar.
KEPA MISSED IT 🤯— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 27, 2022
LIVERPOOL ARE CHAMPIONS 🏆 pic.twitter.com/zCcEccrgnQ
Why did Chelsea bring on Kepa?
Chelsea has tried this technique previously with Kepa, and it worked in the UEFA Super Cup earlier this season. On that occasion Kepa came on in the 119th minute against Villarreal. Kepa saved two penalties including the decisive spot-kick from Raul Albiol as Chelsea prevailed.
Subsequently, Kepa saved a penalty from Aston Villa's Marvelous Nakamba as Chelsea won in a shoot-out in the third round of this very Carabao Cup competition. In doing so, Kepa surpassed Petr Cech as Chelsea's most successful goalkeeper at saving penalties in shootouts.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has given a number of reasons for his decision to bring Kepa on for penalty shootouts. In the aftermath of the UEFA Super Cup in August, the German said that the decision to bring on Kepa was based on data analysis which showed him to be the best goalkeeper at the club in terms of saving penalties.
"No, no. It was not spontaneous," Tuchel told BT Sport after the UEFA Super Cup win. "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, [knowing] that Kepa is the best percentage at saving penalties."
Then, in his post-match press conference on Sunday following the EFL Cup loss, he stated that Kepa has more time to practice penalty stops as Mendy is participating in more tactical drills as the first-choice goalkeeper.
🗣 "Kepa is slightly better in penalty saving."— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) February 27, 2022
Thomas Tuchel backed his decision to bring on Kepa for the shoot-out 🧤 pic.twitter.com/E3GYP5jgC1
Tuchel: "I feel bad for him but no blame, of course... Kepa simply has more time on the training ground [for penalties] than Edu, who plays a lot more."— Dan Kilpatrick (@Dan_KP) February 27, 2022
Thomas Tuchel: "We don't know what would've happened if we left Edou on the pitch. No blame on Kepa. Blame on me as I'm the guy who takes the decisions.— Adam Newson (@AdamNewson) February 27, 2022
"Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. This is life as a football coach." #CFC
Tuchel's decision backfires
Given how well it worked in the Super Cup, it was perhaps understandable why Tuchel chose to bring on Kepa.
However, in hindsight, against such a high quality team in Liverpool, it was the wrong decision, especially when it is taken into consideration how well Mendy had performed.
The moment everything changed 😬 pic.twitter.com/3mdswxBTxa— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 27, 2022
It will be interesting to see whether Tuchel now abandons his policy of turning to Kepa in shoot-outs.
More Wembley frustration for Kepa
This isn't the first time that Kepa has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in the Carabao Cup final. Three years ago, when Maurizio Sarri was the Chelsea manager, Kepa refused to be substituted against Manchester City.
Nearing the end of extra-time, Sarri was attempting to bring on Willy Caballero for the shootout, but Kepa remained on the field and saved one spot-kick in the shoot-out as Chelsea lost 4-3 on penalties.
The Spaniard was heavily blamed for the result, and Maurizio Sarri was forced to play damage control after the match to save his goalkeeper's confidence. Years later, the 27-year-old has a second penalty shootout nightmare at the London ground.