Leeds United are being drawn into the relegation battle, mounting pressure on manager Marcelo Bielsa.

The Whites enjoyed a top-half finish in their return to the Premier League last season but have struggled this term.

Leeds have managed one point from their past six league games, conceding 20 goals in their past five.

TOP STORY – BIELSA EXITS STRUGGLING LEEDS

The Sun claims Marcelo Bielsa has quit as Leeds United manager with ex-RB Leipzig boss Jesse Marsch set to replace him.

Bielsa resigned after Leeds were hammered 4-0 by Tottenham on Saturday, having conceded 14 goals in their past three league games.

The Argentinean's exit from Elland Road is being thrashed out between lawyers, with Fabrizio Romano claiming that Marsch – who left Leipzig in December and previously managed Salzburg and New York Red Bulls – is the favourite to take over.

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea have slapped a £50million price tag on goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga who is wanted by Newcastle United, reports the Daily Star. The Blues signed Kepa in 2018 as the most expensive goalkeeper in history.

Manchester United are lining up two young talents according to the Mirror. The Red Devils are set to table bids for PSV's Cody Gakpo and Sporting CP's Joao Palhinha.

Liverpool target Darwin Nunez is interested in joining the Reds according to Football Insider. The 22-year-old Uruguay international is currently with Benfica.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Barcelona are ahead of Bayern Munich in the race to sign Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen.

It is not uncommon for second-choice goalkeepers to be given minutes in the early rounds of cup competitions, only for the number one to return when it comes down to the crunch.

Yet for Kepa Arrizabalaga, that will almost certainly not be the case.

Signed in 2018 from Athletic Bilbao for £71.6million (€80m), which is still a record fee for a goalkeeper, Kepa undoubtedly struggled in his first few seasons at Stamford Bridge.

Indeed, Kepa's form was so worrying that Chelsea, then managed by club great Frank Lampard, decided to sign Edouard Mendy from Rennes in 2020, just two years after shelling out that record-setting fee.

Yet since Thomas Tuchel came into the club, Kepa has been given a new lease of life.

While Mendy has solidified his place as the number one, Kepa has stepped up when called upon.

The nervous, shaky youngster has made way for a player who once again seems confident in his own ability and his right to play for the European champions.

With Mendy staying as the first choice in the Premier League and Champions League, for now, Kepa has nailed down a starting spot in the domestic cup competitions, and looks set to start against Liverpool in the EFL Cup final on Sunday.

Should he turn in another match-winning display, as he did in the UEFA Super Cup last year, then Tuchel may well have a decision to make on just who is his first choice after all.

What went wrong?

Kepa's move to Chelsea came in the same window that Liverpool had splashed out on Alisson, and there was plenty of expectation on both goalkeepers.

But while Alisson thrived under the pressure, going on to help Liverpool win the Champions League and then the Premier League a year later, Kepa crumbled.

The Spaniard also made headlines when he refused to be subbed off before a penalty shoot-out in, ironically, the EFL Cup final. Maurizio Sarri's side lost to Manchester City.

Across 36 league appearances that season, Kepa conceded 39 goals. Eight of these came from shots outside the box, with only five goalkeepers conceding more long-range efforts. His overall save percentage was 67.77, ranking him 15th in the competition.

Another way to assess the quality of Kepa's shot-stopping is by using the expected goals on target (xGOT) model to calculate the number of goals Kepa actually prevented. xGOT measures not just the quality of a chance (xG) but the quality of the attempt itself.

Kepa's Premier League xGOT figure for 2018-19 was 37.1. Minus the 39 goals he conceded, Kepa essentially allowed in just over two more goals than the numbers would suggest (-1.9).

In comparison, Alisson finished the season having prevented 5.5 goals in the league through the quality of his saves, while West Ham's Lukasz Fabianski, for example, had an outstanding figure of 12.9. 

Yet it was in 2019-20 that Kepa's form truly dropped off. He conceded 47 times from 33 league appearances, with only seven goalkeepers allowing more goals. His save percentage of 53.47 was the poorest in the league, out of shot-stoppers to play at least 10 times, while his goals prevented figure was -10.7 (including penalties, but excluding own goals).

 

Chelsea claimed a top-four place and reached the FA Cup final, yet it was Willy Caballero, not Kepa, who helped them get to a Wembley showdown and, at the start of 2020-21, they drafted in Mendy from Rennes.

Turning point

Things hardly improved for Kepa at the start of 2020-21. Across the Premier League season, no goalkeeper made more errors leading to goals than the Spain international, who committed three such mistakes in just seven appearances.

All of those mistakes came in his first three league appearances of the season, and he did not feature again in the top flight under Lampard, next playing in February. He made four saves, including an impressive stop from Joe Willock late on, as Tuchel's team defeated Newcastle United 2-0.

That, perhaps, was the start of Kepa's resurgence. Chelsea again reached the final of the FA Cup, and again lost - this time to a Youri Tielemans stunner for Leicester City - but Kepa played in all six of those cup matches.

However, the true turning point came in August's Super Cup. Tuchel's side triumphed 6-5 on penalties over Europa League winners Villarreal following a 1-1 draw in Belfast, and Kepa was the hero.

In contrast to that 2019 EFL Cup final, Kepa was the goalkeeper brought on specifically for penalties this time, and he denied Aissa Mandi and Raul Albiol to ensure victory.

Back at his best?

Perhaps Kepa will need to move on to be a first-choice goalkeeper once again. After all, at 27 he can no longer be counted as a youngster, and as it stands Mendy is still Tuchel's number one.

Though Kepa will get his chance in Sunday's EFL Cup final, surely, to help Chelsea claim a third trophy of the season, following the Super Cup and the Club World Cup, in which he featured in the semi-final.

Since that Super Cup success, Kepa has been a consistent performer. In his 13 games across all competitions, he has conceded just eight goals, keeping six clean sheets.

Those eight goals have come from an xGOT of 18.5, meaning Kepa's "goals prevented" figure is now way into the black, at 10.5.

 

In fact, that figure is the best of any goalkeeper in Europe's top five leagues in all competitions, proving just how much Kepa has come on over the course of the last year.

Mendy, in comparison, has stopped just over three goals with his saves, while Kepa also holds a better save percentage (83.7 to Mendy's 77.4), and he has established himself as worthy competition.

It may not be what Chelsea had in mind when they paid that world record fee in 2018, but if he helps them to another piece of silverware on Sunday, it would be hard to argue he is not starting to prove his worth.

Thomas Tuchel hopes to have a fully-fit Chelsea squad for the EFL Cup final against Liverpool after Hakim Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic recovered from knocks, while Reece James could also return.

Ziyech and Kovacic were both doubtful for the Wembley showpiece after picking up injuries in Chelsea's routine 2-0 Champions League win over Lille in midweek, while James has not appeared since December 29.

Chelsea are seeking their fourth trophy under Tuchel, having already won the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup.

The Blues will also be the first team in English football history to compete in one of the major domestic cup finals (League Cup/FA Cup) in six consecutive campaigns on Sunday, having reached FA Cup finals in 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021, and EFL Cup finals in 2019 and 2022.

The Chelsea head coach's cause has been aided by the return of several key figures ahead of the clash with Jurgen Klopp's side.

"We had training today with everybody out on the pitch, except for Ben Chilwell," Tuchel said at Friday's pre-match news conference. "It's brilliant news.

"Both [Ziyech and Kovacic] are okay, today they were not out training with separate programmes, everybody joined in with team training.

"We have no [bad] reactions, only positive reactions. I hope it will stay like this. We have another training session tomorrow, but we hope to have everybody available."

James recorded four goals and five assists in the first half of the Premier League season, and could provide another boost for Tuchel, who remains excited by the prospect of the wing-back's return. 

However, the German boss conceded that he was unsure whether James would be fit enough to start at Wembley.

"He looked brilliant in the last two training sessions," he added. "Let's wait another session and let's see if I'm crazy enough to put him on the pitch!"

Tuchel was guarded as to which of his goalkeepers would start against the Reds, with Kepa Arrizabalaga starting all five matches in the competition so far, while Edouard Mendy has starred in trophy wins for both club and country in 2022.

Asked about the goalkeeper decision, Tuchel responded: "I will not tell you. I will take the decision later. 

"Kepa played in the Club World Cup semi-final and brought us to the final, but then we took the decision to go with Edou for the final, who was back from the Africa Cup of Nations.

"The last decision will be taken after training, as always. Kepa did fantastic in the period that we had to be without Edou, so it's [both] an uncomfortable and very comfortable situation to be in."

Kepa refused to be substituted as Chelsea were beaten on their last EFL Cup final appearance, losing on penalties to Manchester City in 2019 under Maurizio Sarri.

But the goalkeeper has impressed with two clean sheets in four league appearances during Mendy's recent stint on international duty, leaving Tuchel with options heading into the domestic final.

Chelsea assistant coach Zsolt Low heaped praise on Kepa Arrizabalaga following his impressive display in the Club World Cup semi-final win over Al-Hilal.

The 2020-21 Champions League winners progressed to the final of the competition, where they will face Palmeiras after scraping past the Asian champions 1-0.

Romelu Lukaku's 32nd-minute strike settled the contest at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, but it was a generally lacklustre display by Chelsea.

After controlling large periods of the first half, recording 61.9 per cent of possession, the Blues only registered 45.4 per cent after the break and had to rely on important saves from Kepa to keep Al-Hilal at bay.

The Spain international, who was given the nod ahead of Edouard Mendy following the latter's return from his Africa Cup of Nations triumph with Senegal, denied Plymouth Argyle's Ryan Hardie from the penalty spot in the narrow FA Cup victory on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the pick of his saves against Al-Hilal four days on saw him deny Mohamed Kanno in brilliant fashion.

And Low, who oversaw Chelsea in the absence of Thomas Tuchel following a positive COVID-19 test, highlighted the performance of his goalkeeper.

"[Kepa's] very important," he said. "In the cup, he did a big performance to save the penalty. 

"Today when we needed him, he was there and made one big save. 

"He's in very good shape; he plays and trains well. We're lucky to have him. 

"In the next days, we have to decide who plays the final. 

"We're waiting for Thomas' opinion and the goalkeeping coaches before we take the decision for the final."

Low also applauded Lukaku, who netted his first goal since the 5-1 win over Chesterfield in the FA on January 8.

Other than his strike, though, the Belgium international registered just one shot on goal – straight at the goalkeeper – and was caught offside on three occasions.

Nevertheless, Low insisted he was delighted with the striker's efforts.

"Everyone's very happy he scored," he added. 

"He fought very hard and tried hard in the last game; that's why we gave him the chance. 

"We hoped for a bit of luck to score today. He's very happy, we're very happy and hope he continues and scores in the final."

Chelsea coach Arno Michels said Kepa Arrizabalaga deserves the trust of the club after his crucial penalty save secured their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the expense of Plymouth Argyle.

The Blues fought back from a goal down to beat the League One side 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, Marcos Alonso netting an extra-time winner after Cesar Azpilicueta had cancelled out Macaulay Gillesphey's shock eighth-minute opener.

Plymouth had a great chance to force a shoot-out after Ryan Hardie won a penalty from Malang Sarr in the 116th minute, but his tame effort was comfortably saved by Kepa.

The Spain international, who became the world's most expensive goalkeeper when he joined Chelsea from Athletic Bilbao for £71.6million (€80m) in 2018, has not always proved reliable as a regular number one but his penalty record has been impressive.

In this season's UEFA Super Cup, he came off the bench for the shoot-out against Villarreal and made two saves to seal the trophy for his side.

"It's not about his penalty save but also about his performance, which was very good," said Michels. "Since the last matches, I found him very reliable in his game, so we're very happy with Kepa.

"He deserves our trust because he's a fantastic guy who is doing constantly very good and reliable work in training.

 

"He has these strengths to save penalties and has shown it a few times now, in the [EFL] Cup twice and against Villarreal. Even in training, it is hard to beat him. He has the ability to read the mind of the player and what he's going to do so we're pleased he could save us today."

Chelsea's coaching staff took a collective approach to overseeing Saturday's game as head coach Thomas Tuchel is isolating at home after testing positive for COVID-19.

Tuchel was in contact with assistant coach and analyst Benni Weber through the contest as Chelsea eventually battled their way through.

"We saw it as a team effort with Zsolt Low, Anthony Barry and me as well, with Hilario and Benni included," said Michels.

"We all felt a little bit excited because we're used to having Thomas on our side, so it was definitely different, but the team made it very easy for us and helped us in our work. We felt very good and supported."

Chelsea now head to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup, for which they will hope to have a few players recover from muscular concerns.

"Mason [Mount] felt it in extra time when he had a shot," said Michels. "It was not a serious problem during the game, and he realised quickly that he felt pain, so we took him off and there will be further exams. Hopefully, it’s not too bad but right now I cannot promise what the situation is.

"Hakim [Ziyech] had a bit of a problem and Azpi with his hamstring. I wouldn't say they are injuries, but we have a few muscular problems. Hopefully, they are only little ones, so they are back in training tomorrow [Sunday] or Monday."

Thomas Tuchel insists Kepa Arrizabalaga is a safe pair of hands as Chelsea bid to end Tottenham's Wembley hopes in the EFL Cup.

Kepa has been Chelsea's preferred goalkeeper in the competition this season and has shone so far, but the biggest test awaits as Tuchel takes his side to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Chelsea hold a 2-0 lead from the first leg, but Tuchel promised there would be no complacency from his charges on Wednesday, warning that "anything can happen" in such a game.

What he is confident about is that Kepa has matured as a goalkeeper, after enduring rocky spells during his Blues career.

The Spaniard made three errors leading to goals in just 14 games last season, with only four goalkeepers across Europe's top five competitions making more.

He only made two mistakes leading to a shot in 2019-20, but Chelsea still felt compelled to find a replacement ahead of last term, with Edouard Mendy coming in to provide a more reassuring presence behind the defence.

After a fine maiden campaign at Stamford Bridge, Mendy remains the Premier League first pick, but Kepa has been mostly exemplary when given a chance.

"I never experienced Kepa nervous, not one single day," said Tuchel. "The good thing is, it was a very genuine trust everybody had in Kepa once we let him play.

"He was very calm, very focused. I had the feeling he does not need to show in this 90 minutes [against Tottenham] that he is capable.

"We trust him and he is capable. We have him and are so happy to have him and that's maybe the difference. We're happy for him that he can show it."

Since joining Chelsea in 2018, Kepa has played 116 games and made 10 errors in that time that have resulted in shots, three of which led to goals – last season's unfortunate bumper crop.

In the same period, Everton's Jordan Pickford has played 133 goals and made 20 errors leading to shots, of which 12 led to goals.

Liverpool's Alisson has played 154 games, making nine errors leading to goals, while Manchester United's David de Gea has featured 151 times and made 12 errors costing his side a goal, the joint-leader in that metric along with Pickford.

Tottenham's Hugo Lloris has been responsible for mistakes that have cost Spurs six goals in his 138 games since the beginning of the 2018-19 season, with such evidence suggesting the common perception of Kepa as being calamity-prone might be unfair.

In the EFL Cup alone this season, Opta data shows Kepa has conceded five fewer goals than expected, based on expected goals on target (xGOT), which examines the quality of shots he has faced.

 

Ahead of Kepa, Tuchel was toying with throwing N'Golo Kante and Thiago Silva back into his matchday squad after recent brushes with COVID-19, although that hinged on them being given the all-clear by club medics at training later on Tuesday, with cardiac tests required.

"If we do it, it's a gamble," Tuchel said.

Wembley beckons, but Tuchel says it remains a distant prospect for Chelsea, despite their healthy lead.

"I would say we have no foot in the final," he said. "We play another tough match in a tough stadium against a very good team and a top, top, top coach."

Clearly Tuchel believes Spurs boss Antonio Conte will still fancy turning around the tie. Yet the fact Harry Kane has not scored in his last six encounters with Chelsea appears to bode well for Wednesday night's visitors.

Tottenham will be looking to become just the second team to reach the EFL Cup final having lost a semi-final first leg by more than one goal, after Aston Villa did so against Tranmere Rovers in the 1993-94 campaign.

"We need to be prepared," said Tuchel, "and it's maybe better not to expect too much because nobody knows what's going to happen. We had a very good match in the first leg, but it's over. it's the past."

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel insists Kepa Arrizabalaga has nothing to prove as he backed the goalkeeper to continue making the most of his run in the side.

Kepa remains the most expensive keeper of all time after Chelsea paid £71million (€80m) to sign the Spain international from Athletic Bilbao in August 2018.

The 26-year-old struggled to justify that fee in his first two years at Stamford Bridge, however, and lost his place as first choice following Edouard Mendy's arrival 12 months ago.

But Kepa was handed a first start of the campaign last weekend with Mendy out injured and kept a clean sheet in Chelsea's 3-0 win over Tottenham.

He is expected to remain in goal for Wednesday's EFL Cup third-round tie against Aston Villa and Tuchel is glad to have such strong competition in the goalkeeping department.

"We have two super strong goalkeepers. Do we need them both? We had proof last weekend," Tuchel said. "He was a key factor to have a clean sheet at the weekend. 

"It is as easy as that. Whether the money is too high or low, these measurements don't matter to us. This pressure is off his shoulders and he deserves it to be off his shoulders.

"He seems happy to me, he may not be happy with the situation but he is happy with where he is at and the part he plays in the team.

"Everyone wants to play more minutes. We have contracts for 24 players including goalkeepers so we simply cannot give the same amount of minutes to everyone. 

"It's the same for the guys who play on the field but it is more dramatic for goalkeepers. That's because we don't change them during games so maybe it seems even harder.

"I feel an open guy, a humble guy, a super nice guy, a top, top professional sports guy who is a big part of this squad. I feel him happy. 

"Maybe he could be even happier with more minutes but I don't feel he is concerned at the moment because he is pushing and fighting for his chances.

"You can't force situations. I have a feeling with his mindset that he is here and he pushes with his calmness and positivity. He did not force it. 

"He doesn't have to prove to me that he is a good goalkeeper because I see it every day in training. 

"Maybe that's the point, that he does not try too hard to convince everybody that he is worth what the club paid.

"Who cares about what the club paid? So what. Money doesn't matter now. The question is whether we can afford to have him as a goalkeeper."

Kepa has made two appearances in total this campaign, having saved two penalties in last month's Super Cup win over Villarreal after being brought on as a late substitute.

The Spaniard has featured 111 times for Chelsea in all competitions, conceding 120 times and keeping 40 clean sheets across that period.

By comparison, Mendy has conceded 31 goals and has 29 shutouts from his first 50 appearances for the Blues.

Not only does Mendy concede fewer goals per 90 minutes than Kepa (0.62 compared to 1.09), he also boasts a better save percentage – 78.32 compared to 65.12.

Since making his Chelsea debut on September 29 last year, only Manchester City's Ederson (30) has kept more clean sheets than Mendy among keepers in Europe's top five leagues when taking all competitions into account.

With a huge Premier League clash against reigning champions City coming up on Saturday, Tuchel is hopeful that Mendy will be available for selection once again.

"I hope he will be back in team training on Thursday," the German coach said. "If it goes well, I hope he can be ready for Saturday but I don't know right now."

Romelu Lukaku's final kick of his first spell at Chelsea came in a Super Cup.

On August 30, 2013, the Belgian – then 20, still young, albeit one with the physical stature of a player much further on in his career – missed the decisive penalty as Chelsea became the first team to lose successive Super Cup fixtures, going down in a shoot-out to Bayern Munich.

Not long after that game, Lukaku headed to Everton, initially on a loan deal before he made a permanent move to Goodison Park a year later. A return to Chelsea, however, has always seemed a possibility for the striker who stormed onto the scene with Anderlecht in his teens.

Whereas a Super Cup marked the end of his first spell in London, Wednesday's meeting with Villarreal showed just why the Blues are set to break their transfer record to sign the 28-year-old, who arrives back at the club a Serie A winner and one of Europe's leading forwards.

This time, Lukaku watched on from afar as Chelsea, defeated on penalties by Liverpool in the 2019 edition, clinched victory in the shoot-out after a 1-1 draw in Belfast – Kepa Arrizabalaga coming on to be the hero.

 

ROM THE REMEDY

It seems wrong to be too critical of Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea, given their remarkable success in his short time at the club. They went unbeaten in their first 14 games under the German, secured a top-four finish, reached the FA Cup final and, of course, won the Champions League.

Yet from Tuchel's appointment until the end of last season, Chelsea scored only 38 goals in all competitions.

The chances were being created - it would be difficult for players such as Mason Mount, who crafted the second-most opportunities in the Premier League last season, Hakim Ziyech, who opened the scoring in Belfast before going off injured, Christian Pulisic and Champions League final goalscorer Kai Havertz not to fashion their fair share.

Much was made of Timo Werner's first season at the club too, as the former RB Leipzig forward fluffed his lines time after time. He finished with six league goals but from 79 attempts, registering a shot conversion rate of just 7.59 per cent, while he only netted five of the 23 'big' chances, as defined by Opta, that came his way.

Up until the 27th minute at Windsor Park, when Ziyech tucked in from Havertz's centre, it was all Chelsea, but the same issues which had plagued their frontline last season were present once more.

In the sixth minute, Marcos Alonso's brilliant cross caught Werner on his heels. It would have been a gift for Lukaku. Werner forced a great save from the resulting corner, though that was the only shot he managed in his 65 minutes on the field.

More issues came after Ziyech's opener, as Chelsea (who had 67.9 per cent possession before the break) failed to add to their lead and let Villarreal – who levelled through Gerard Moreno – claim control.

Lukaku's imminent arrival, however, should ensure this profligacy, demonstrated again by Pulisic's 100th-minute miss from close range, is not repeated throughout the coming campaign.

Chelsea ended the game against Villarreal with 20 attempts, of which seven were on target. Had Lukaku's signing come in time, it is hard to imagine penalties would have been required at all to decide the outcome.

KEPA THE HERO

While Chelsea's forwards toiled, it was forgotten man Kepa who came on to be the difference.

In the 119th minute, Edouard Mendy made way for the former Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper – just over 17 minutes after that change, Kepa dived low to his right to keep out Raul Albiol's weak effort and ensure the Champions League holders have now lifted the Super Cup in eight of the past nine seasons.

It was a brave call by Tuchel, who follows in the footsteps of compatriots Jurgen Klopp and Hansi Flick in winning the Super Cup – German coaches having triumphed in the last three editions.

With Lukaku soon to be back on board, it could – and perhaps should – be the first trophy of many for the Blues this term.

For now, though, this was just a nice story for Kepa, the keeper who once refused to be taken off in a cup final had come on late to help decide the outcome in his team's favour.

Romelu Lukaku's final kick of his first spell at Chelsea came in a Super Cup.

On August 30, 2013, the Belgian – then 20, still young, albeit one with the physical stature of a player much further on in his career – missed the decisive penalty as Chelsea became the first team to lose successive Super Cup fixtures, going down in a shoot-out to Bayern Munich.

Not long after that game, Lukaku headed to Everton, initially on a loan deal before he made a permanent move to Goodison Park a year later. A return to Chelsea, however, has always seemed a possibility for the striker who stormed onto the scene with Anderlecht in his teens.

Whereas a Super Cup marked the end of his first spell in London, Wednesday's meeting with Villarreal showed just why the Blues are set to break their transfer record to sign the 28-year-old, who arrives back at the club a Serie A winner and one of Europe's leading forwards.

This time, Lukaku watched on from afar as Chelsea, defeated on penalties by Liverpool in the 2019 edition, clinched victory in the shoot-out after a 1-1 draw in Belfast – Kepa Arrizabalaga coming on to be the hero.

 

ROM THE REMEDY

It seems wrong to be too critical of Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea, given their remarkable success in his short time at the club. They went unbeaten in their first 14 games under the German, secured a top-four finish, reached the FA Cup final and, of course, won the Champions League.

Yet from Tuchel's appointment until the end of last season, Chelsea scored only 38 goals in all competitions.

The chances were being created - it would be difficult for players such as Mason Mount, who crafted the second-most opportunities in the Premier League last season, Hakim Ziyech, who opened the scoring in Belfast before going off injured, Christian Pulisic and Champions League final goalscorer Kai Havertz not to fashion their fair share.

Much was made of Timo Werner's first season at the club too, as the former RB Leipzig forward fluffed his lines time after time. He finished with six league goals but from 79 attempts, registering a shot conversion rate of just 7.59 per cent, while he only netted five of the 23 'big' chances, as defined by Opta, that came his way.

Up until the 27th minute at Windsor Park, when Ziyech tucked in from Havertz's centre, it was all Chelsea, but the same issues which had plagued their frontline last season were present once more.

In the sixth minute, Marcos Alonso's brilliant cross caught Werner on his heels. It would have been a gift for Lukaku. Werner forced a great save from the resulting corner, though that was the only shot he managed in his 65 minutes on the field.

More issues came after Ziyech's opener, as Chelsea (who had 67.9 per cent possession before the break) failed to add to their lead and let Villarreal – who levelled through Gerard Moreno – claim control.

Lukaku's imminent arrival, however, should ensure this profligacy, demonstrated again by Pulisic's 100th-minute miss from close range, is not repeated throughout the coming campaign.

Chelsea ended the game against Villarreal with 20 attempts, of which seven were on target. Had Lukaku's signing come in time, it is hard to imagine penalties would have been required at all to decide the outcome.

KEPA THE HERO

While Chelsea's forwards toiled, it was forgotten man Kepa who came on to be the difference.

In the 119th minute, Edouard Mendy made way for the former Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper – just over 17 minutes after that change, Kepa dived low to his right to keep out Raul Albiol's weak effort and ensure the Champions League holders have now lifted the Super Cup in eight of the past nine seasons.

It was a brave call by Tuchel, who follows in the footsteps of compatriots Jurgen Klopp and Hansi Flick in winning the Super Cup – German coaches having triumphed in the last three editions.

With Lukaku soon to be back on board, it could – and perhaps should – be the first trophy of many for the Blues this term.

For now, though, this was just a nice story for Kepa, the keeper who once refused to be taken off in a cup final had come on late to help decide the outcome in his team's favour.

Thomas Tuchel explained his extra-time goalkeeper substitution was based on statistical data, not spontaneity, with Kepa Arrizabalaga making two shoot-out saves to win the Super Cup for Chelsea.

Gerard Moreno's second-half strike cancelled out Hakim Ziyech's opener at Windsor Park and, with penalties looming, Tuchel sent on Kepa for Edouard Mendy in the closing minutes.

The Spain goalkeeper denied both Aissa Mandi and Raul Albiol in the shoot-out, ensuring a 6-5 penalties win for Chelsea after a 1-1 draw to secure their second Super Cup.

Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Tuchel explained his decision to bring on Kepa was pre-discussed and based on data introduced to him by his analysts and goalkeeping coaches.

"It was not spontaneous," Tuchel responded when asked about the extra-time change. "We talked about it with the goalkeepers after the first cup game against Barnsley. We had some statistics. We were well prepared."

"Kepa has the best percentage at saving penalties. We spoke to the players that this could happen when we play in knockout games. It's fantastic how Edouard [Mendy] accepted it.

"There is proof that Kepa is better in this discipline. They're team players. Edouard does not show the pride to not step off the field. He was happy to do it for the team and take this for the team."

It was a strange reversal of roles for the former Athletic Bilbao man – the world's most expensive goalkeeper – who in the 2019 EFL Cup final refused to go off when then-Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri attempted to bring on Willy Caballero. Chelsea went on to lose on penalties to Manchester City.

However, Kepa's heroics in Belfast banished any potential Super Cup demons for Chelsea, who picked up their first triumph since 1998, having lost to Atletico Madrid in 2012 and suffered shoot-out heartbreak against both Bayern Munich and Liverpool in 2013 and 2019.

Wednesday's win also ensured Tuchel, the third German coach in a row to lift the Super Cup after Jurgen Klopp and Hansi Flick, maintained his perfect record against Spanish opposition, winning four and drawing five of nine games.

It was not all good news after Chelsea's win, however, with Hakim Ziyech's shoulder injury marring another memorable European outing for Tuchel's men.

Ziyech did return to the stands in the second half with his arm in a sling, though Tuchel conceded "if you take a player out during the first half it's serious."

Chelsea will await news on the extent of Ziyech's injury while their attention now turns to hosting Crystal Palace in their Premier League opener on Saturday.

Kepa Arrizabalaga and Edouard Mendy credited one another after the former was introduced in extra-time and produced shoot-out heroics to ensure Chelsea's first Super Cup win since 1998.

Penalties were required after Gerard Moreno cancelled out Hakim Ziyech's opener and, in the closing minutes of extra-time, Thomas Tuchel sent on Kepa at Windsor Park.

The Spanish goalkeeper stepped up to the plate, denying both Aissa Mandi and Raul Albiol, to secure a 6-5 shoot-out victory and Chelsea's second Super Cup success at the fifth time of asking.

While Tuchel hailed his analysts and backroom staff for the decision based on statistics after the game, the two goalkeepers rejoiced together when speaking to BT Sport.

"It's not a typical situation but we arrived to penalties after Edouard did a fantastic job," Kepa said. "Finally we won and we are so happy.

"I was ready because I knew this could happen. I tried to be ready mentally and physically."

Kepa, who had been pre-warned that this could be the case should the final go to penalties, is simply statistically better at saving penalties according to Tuchel, hence why the decision was made.

Mendy's saves against Boulaye Dia and Gerard Moreno kept Chelsea in front and, despite conceding later on and being removed with minutes to go, he also echoed similar sentiments stood alongside his fellow goalkeeper.

"I'm happy because we won," the former Rennes man added. "I knew since last year that if Kepa came on the pitch he would help the team.

"It's a team effort. We play for Chelsea and for success. We did this today together."

While the pair enjoyed the collective effort that secured the win, it was not all positive news for Chelsea, who lost Hakim Ziyech to a shoulder injury in the first half.

The Moroccan playmaker returned to the stands before the second half with his arm in a sling and Chelsea now await an update as they prepare for their Premier League opener against Crystal Palace on August 14.

Kepa Arrizabalaga was the hero as Chelsea secured their first Super Cup triumph since 1998, running out 6-5 winners in a penalty shoot-out against Villarreal following a 1-1 draw in Belfast.

Hakim Ziyech opened the scoring after good work down the left flank from Kai Havertz before the former Ajax man's shoulder injury marred an entertaining first half.

Alberto Moreno and Gerard Moreno both hit the woodwork either side of half-time, though the latter restored parity with a fine finish to send the final to extra time.

Kepa, who was brought on in the closing minutes solely for penalties, denied both Aissa Mandi and Raul Albiol to make sure Chelsea came out on top.

The Champions League holders had started proceedings impressively too, Timo Werner forcing the first save as Sergio Asenjo had to react quickly to parry away a close-range effort from Havertz's inswinging corner.

Asenjo, though, was no match for Ziyech's sweeping finish after Havertz found space on the left and drilled towards his team-mate near the penalty spot.

Ziyech's injury, suffered while defending a set-piece situation, offered Thomas Tuchel a reason to be concerned, with Alberto Moreno then smashing an effort onto the crossbar.

Gerard Moreno was also denied in similar circumstances after the break, capitalising on Edouard Mendy's wayward clearance before seeing his low strike smack the post.

However, the Villarreal forward quickly made amends, exchanging a one-two with Boulaye Dia before lifting over Mendy for his 23rd goal of 2021, ranking him fifth across Europe's top-five leagues.

Both Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount could not find extra-time winners and, with a shoot-out in sight, Tuchel sent on Kepa.

Opposite number Asenjo drew first blood with a stop against Havertz, but that advantage faded away when Kepa saved for the first time.

With no further misses between the other eight takers, sudden death kicks were necessary. After Antonio Rudiger rolled in his attempt, Kepa guessed the right way to deny Villarreal captain Albiol.

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is the latest player to be called up to Spain's back-up training bubble ahead of Euro 2020.

Spain's preparations have been thrown into disarray following Sergio Busquets' positive coronavirus test on Sunday.

The senior squad, who are in isolation, all returned negative tests on Monday but will continue to follow strict protocols before the start of the Euros, with players from the Under-21 squad set to play in Tuesday's friendly with Lithuania.

As a precaution against further positive cases depleting his squad, coach Luis Enrique has created a parallel training bubble with players effectively on stand-by to join the main Euros squad.

Rodrigo Moreno, Pablo Fornals, Carlos Soler and Brais Mendez were first called up to the bubble before defender Raul Albiol was added late on Monday.

Kepa will also join the group, giving Luis Enrique coverage across the positions should any further COVID-19 cases arise.

Kepa made only seven Premier League appearances in 2020-21 after losing his place to Edouard Mendy. The former Athletic Bilbao keeper has 11 senior caps for Spain.

Thomas Tuchel seemed relaxed about the condition of Edouard Mendy after the goalkeeper suffered a rib injury in Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa, less then a week before the Champions League final.

Mendy was replaced by Kepa Arrizabalaga at half-time, with the Senegal international having hurt his ribs after colliding with the goal frame.

Chelsea went on to secure qualification for the Champions League regardless of their defeat to Villa, though the fitness of their first-choice goalkeeper was undoubtedly a concern with such an important game on the horizon.

Mendy joined Chelsea last year and quickly established himself as the club's primary option between the posts under Frank Lampard, before retaining his place when Tuchel came in four months ago.

The German expects a firm update on Monday but is optimistic the goalkeeper will be available to face Manchester City in Porto Saturday.

Asked how they handled Mendy's loss, Tuchel told reporters: "It is easy to handle.

"He fell into the frame of the net. He feels a big pain in his ribs. We will have an update tomorrow with what's going on.

"We will see if it is possible [for him to play on Saturday] and if it is possible, we will push to do everything so he is in goal on Saturday."

Mendy has kept 16 clean sheets in the Premier League this season, a haul bettered by only Thibaut Courtois (17), Jan Oblak (18), Ederson (19) and Mike Maignan (21) across the top five European leagues in 2020-21.

His nine clean sheets since Tuchel's appointment is only behind Maignan's 11 over the same period.

Nevertheless, his xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded does leave a little to be desired, as his 26 goals let in is from a xGOT of 22.8.

This means the average goalkeeper would have expected to only let in roughly 23 goals from the quality of chances against him, therefore suggesting Mendy can do better.

Oblak has the best record (among goalkeepers to have played 15 or more games) in this regard over Europe's top five leagues, preventing LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid from conceding 8.6 goals more than they have.

However, Kepa's form from last season still shows how much of an upgrade Mendy has been.

Kepa conceded 47 Premier League goals from an xGOT value of 34.3, which suggests he was at fault for 12.7 goals – that was the third-worst such record across the top five leagues.

The Spaniard cannot be blamed too much for Sunday's defeat, though, the only goal he conceded coming via a penalty.

However, Tuchel accepts Chelsea got lucky, with Tottenham's 4-2 win over Leicester City ultimately vital in ensuring the Blues finished fourth.

"We are lucky that Tottenham did the job for us and finished the job for us today. Like I said, we came to win and to put any doubts to the side but it was not possible," Tuchel continued.

"We are in the position, were in it, that it was possible to end in the four even with a defeat and that was possible because of the team's hard work and consistently good results.

"We need to adjust details and we need to be spot on on Saturday as we want a positive outcome."

Harry Kane's reported desire to leave Tottenham has created a race for his signature.

A lack of silverware is believed to be behind Kane's alleged urge to move on, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea the leading suitors.

In the post-COVID world where club finances have been hit hard, some clubs are getting creative.

 

TOP STORY - CHELSEA'S PLAYER-PLUS-CASH SWAP DEAL

Chelsea are launching a player-plus-cash swap deal to land Kane from Tottenham involving goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and forward Tammy Abraham, claims ESPN.

Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris is expected to leave the club, hence the lure of Kepa who has been back-up to Edouard Mendy, while Abraham, who is not a regular starter for the Blues, could help to fill the void left by Kane.

Kane is contracted with Tottenham for another three seasons and Spurs are believed to want a transfer fee of £150 million, so the addition of players would drop that figure down to an affordable level.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Guardian reports that Sergio Aguero has agreed to a two-year deal with Barcelona, with his departure from Manchester City this off-season already confirmed.

- Arsenal's Sead Kolasinac will leave the Gunners, with Schalke 04 and Lazio circling for the Bosnian's signature, reports Football London.

- Fernandinho was set to exit Manchester City, but The Times claims he will renew with the club on a one-year deal.

- The manager merry-go-round is in full swing, with The Mirror claiming that Wolves are looking at ex-Roma boss Paulo Fonseca, while The Sun reports that Tottenham will try to convince Brendan Rodgers to join the club if Leicester City fail to qualify for next season's Champions League.

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