Chelsea’s second choice goalkeeper was the hero as Thomas Tuchel’s men overcame Aston Villa on penalties at Stamford Bridge to move into the last-16 of the Carabao Cup
Kepa Arrizabalaga was Chelsea’s penalty shoot-out hero again after a thriller at Stamford Bridge.
Reece James struck the winning spot kick to set up a fourth round tie with Southampton and Kepa’s redemption under Thomas Tuchel is a brilliant comeback story.
The Chelsea keeper looked on his way out of Stamford Bridge as he was haunted by the 2019 Carabao Cup final when he refused to be substituted with it heading to a penalty shoot-out.
Kepa lost his place under former boss Frank Lampard and when Chelsea brought in Edouard Mendy and the writing looked on the wall for the Spaniard.
But Kepa was the hero in the penalty shoot-out against Villarreal in the European Super Cup final last month and reigned supreme against Aston Villa again.
Kepa saved from Marvelous Nakamba while Ashley Young crashed his effort against the crossbar to leave Chelsea in pole position as James struck the fifth and decisive penalty.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel said: “Kepa is the man again. He’s very strong with penalties. It helps if you have had good experiences, even in penalty shoot-outs, so we focused on that.
“We tried our best and I’m happy the players kept their cool and did what they needed to do, were strong. I’m happy – it’s a nice win because it was tough in a nice win, a big Cup fight, and it’s good to win it like this.
“It was a good game, full of energy, good chances, two teams who tried everything to win. It was a nice game to watch. This is also part of what we do: to have entertainment. I’m happy because we won and we have some competitive minutes in our players’ legs.”
It was a terrific advert for the Carabao Cup as, after a disappointing first half, the second 45 minutes was end-to-end and could have gone either way.
Chelsea forward Timo Werner put the hosts ahead after 54 minutes with a close range header from Reece James’ brilliant curling cross.
But Villa came back and were level ten minutes later when Matt Cash’s cross found teenage striker Cameron Archer to head home.
Both teams had rung the changes and Ruben Loftus-Cheek shone for Chelsea and seized a rare opportunity but the home side brought on Romelu Lukaku and even he could not decide the contest and stop it going to penalties.
Anwar El Ghazi, Ezri Konsa and Emilano Buendia were on target for Villa from the spot with Lukaku, Mason Mount and Ross Barkley also successful for Chelsea but Ben Chilwell’s miss gave Villa hope until James’ spot kick settled matters.
N’Golo Kante was substituted at half time in what looked like a plan to save him for Saturday’s showdown with Manchester City and Kepa showed that he is definitely ready for that test even if Mendy is not ready for the weekend.