Villarreal was once again presented with the opportunity to deny another English club a European title through penalty-kicks for the second straight final in Wednesday’s Super Cup final against Chelsea, but the UEFA Champions League winners had goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to thank for overcoming the Spanish side.
After extra time with the match still locked at 1-1, it called for penalty shootouts and Chelsea goalie saved two of the Villarreal penalties to allow the UCL champions to outscore their Europa opponents, claim the UEFA Super Cup and begin the new continental season just as they ended the previous.
Arrizabalaga, who started on the bench, earned his super-sub status when he replaced Senegalese safe hands, Edouard Mendy, as Thomas Tuchel began looking towards penalties with the game going into the final moments of extra time still at one goal apiece.
This time around, unlike Unai Emery getting one over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with his tactical play in the final of the Europa Cup competition last year, it was Tuchel that gained the upper tactical hand because that swap of goalkeepers was the brilliant move that singly settled the affair in Chelsea’s favour.
But the test of football superiority had gone on all through the game. Chelsea began strongly with their domination of the possession stats as they pinned the Spanish side inside their half for good parts of the opening period. Yet, crafting chances from all their possession was their drawback as it was the last season
In the 27th minute, they found a way, when a fine pass from Marcos Alonso found Kai Havertz, who immediately cut it back for Hakim Ziyech to channel home with a strike that found the far corner beyond Sergio Asenjo in the Villarreal goal for the opener.
There was almost a swift response from the Yellow Submarines but the chance just before halftime was lost after the two Villarreal Morenos, Gerard and Albert, combined passes only for the latter’s left-foot volley to smack against the bar and bounce down and out without crossing the line.
In the second period, Emery’s halftime input brought significant improvements to the Villarreal play. The increased willingness to advance at pace put some pressure on the English club that they did not feel in the first half. The persistence of Emery’s charges finally paid off in the 74th minute.
As pointed out in the preview of the final, it was goal-threat Gerard Moreno, who provided the goods after he combined sensationally with Boulaye Dia before sweeping a beautiful finish into the top corner. Their pressure had helped them draw level and they were ready to wrap up the game while still pumped by the equaliser.
Chances came in the latter stages of the final for both sides but they were half-chances and no more goals were recorded in the time that remained. It was not any different as it mirrored most of what happened in regulation time. Chelsea was the better side in the first period of extra-time but there still were no goals after 120 minutes.
Just before the penalties were called, Tuchel replaced Mendy with Arrizabalaga for the shootouts but it was Villarreal keeper, Asenjo, that started the goalkeeping heroics when he kept out Kai Havert playing the first penalty for Chelsea.
Arrizabalaga balanced the scores when he stopped Aissa Mandi and in sudden-death, after all initial five kicks did not get a winner, the Spanish goalkeeper denied Raul Albiol for a winning start to the season for the Blues of Chelsea.