Talking Tactics: Unlikely heroes secure Tuchel's second Chelsea trophy
Kepa Arrizabalaga was the shock hero as Chelsea beat Villarreal 6-5 on penalties in the Super Cup final following a 1-1 draw.
The goalkeeper was introduced at the end of extra-time in place of Edouard Mendy but did not have a touch before the game reached penalties.
Kepa saved from Aissa Mandi at 1-1 before diving low to stop Raul Albiol’s decisive spot-kick.
Hakim Ziyech gave the Blues the lead after 27 minutes with a first-time finish from Kai Havertz’s inch-perfect low cross.
But 17 minutes from the end, Gerard Moreno forced extra-time by firing into the top corner.
After the additional half-hour failed to separate the sides, Chelsea triumphed from 12 yards to give Thomas Tuchel his second piece of silverware as Blues boss.
With the impending arrival of £97.5million club-record signing Romelu Lukaku, this was an important opportunity for Timo Werner.
The German, 25, scored just six times in his maiden Premier League season following a £47.5m switch from RB Leipzig last summer.
Werner had a chance to stake his claim for the starting berth in Tuchel’s starting XI after just six minutes when he met Ziyech’s corner from the right and tested goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo with a volley.
But Werner does not see Lukaku, 28, as a threat to his position at Stamford Bridge. In fact, he believes the Belgian’s arrival could help him.
He said: "He’s probably one of the best three strikers in the world at the moment, no question.
"I certainly think at Leipzig it always helped me having a big striker alongside me.
"I think that’s always good because I’m not the biggest and when you play on your own up front you obviously always have the attention of one or two brawny defenders."
Ziyech holds the key
Another Chelsea attacker who endured a hit-and-miss first season in English football was opening goalscorer Ziyech.
The £40m addition from Ajax struggled to force his way into the starting XI under Frank Lampard, playing in a number of positions without finding form.
His best performances came following Tuchel's arrival and a switch to a 3-4-2-1 system with two playmakers behind the No9.
Just before the half-hour mark in Belfast, the Moroccan swept Chelsea into the lead with a scuffed first-time effort from Havertz’s cut-back.
But his night was cruelly cut short just before half-time when he suffered a shoulder injury following an innocuous-looking clash at a corner.
Before that, the tricky attacker had been at the heart of anything good for Chelsea.
It was his corner that found Werner at the back post before a sumptuous free-kick landed at the feet of Trevoh Chalobah.
Playing as one of the two No10s behind Werner, Ziyech had completed more key passes (four) than anyone else in the first half.
More and More for Gerard
He might have struggled to make an impact at Euro 2020 but Moreno gave a timely reminder of his quality with a well-taken equaliser 15 minutes from time.
After hitting 30 goals in all competitions last term, the 29-year-old collected debutant Boulaye Dia’s clever backheel and placed beyond Mendy with a composed finish.
The goal was no more than Villarreal deserved with the arrival of Pervis Estupinan from the bench coinciding with the Yellow Submarine’s improvement.
Brought on for Alfonso Pedraza at left-back, the Ecuadorian offered more attacking thrust and helped turn the tide in the favour of the Europa League winners.
From a Chelsea perspective, manager Tuchel would have been concerned to see how easily Moreno found the space to score.
Underappreciated Kovacic stars
With Jorginho excelling at the European Championship, N’Golo Kante winning numerous plaudits for his role in Chelsea’s success last term and Mason Mount being a hugely popular academy product done good, Mateo Kovacic sometimes goes under the radar.
But the Croatian was excellent against Villarreal, winning seven tackles and making four interceptions for the Blues.
In the first half alone, he recorded five tackles, won six of seven ground duels and completed 95% of the passes he attempted.
The former Real Madrid and Inter Milan midfielder goes about his business quietly — but his importance to Chelsea in allowing those further forward to shine cannot be overstated.
Redemption for Kepa
The irony of Kepa, the man who refused to be substituted by Maurizio Sarri in the Carabao Cup final, being introduced at the end of extra-time was not lost.
But the Spaniard vindicated Tuchel’s decision to bring him on in place of the otherwise outstanding Mendy.
He played just once in last season’s triumphant Champions League campaign but came up big for his side in Belfast.
He first saved from Mandi before getting down smartly to parry away Albiol’s penalty to clinch the silverware.
Remarkably, the world’s most expensive stopper had not even touched the ball before his first save — but showed no sign of nerves in the shootout.
Whether or not he remains at Stamford Bridge beyond transfer deadline day is unclear.
The Blues have signed the experienced Marcus Bettinelli and would surely allow Kepa to move on for the right price.
But this cameo will not have harmed his chances.