Kepa Arrizabalaga was a surprise penalty shootout hero for Chelsea as he came on late in extra-time to lead the Blues to a shootout victory over Villarreal in Belfast.
With the scores level at 120 minutes following goals from Hakim Ziyech and Gerard Moreno in normal time, Kepa replaced Edouard Mendy in the final moments of extra-time specifically for the shootout – and it proved the right call from Thomas Tuchel as the Spaniard proved decisive.
Ziyech finished a slick team move 27 minutes into the contest on Wednesday night, but then departed with a suspected dislocated shoulder to leave Thomas Tuchel with a selection problem just days before the new Premier League season.
While Chelsea are set to welcome £97.5million Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge, the likely absence of Ziyech will be a blow with a number of key players yet to get up to full fitness before the Blues face Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Gerard Moreno equalised 73 minutes in as Villarreal rallied after the break to send the game to extra-time, but Chelsea won the shootout to lift the trophy.
Still, it was a good night’s work for Chelsea in Belfast as Tuchel added another trophy to the Champions League triumph last season, with Unai Emery’s Europa League holders proving feisty opposition.
Chelsea controlled the first half, with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Marcos Alonso stretching the play on either flank to pin back Villarreal.
Timo Werner stung the hands of Sergio Asenjo with a volley, while the Villarreal goalkeeper kept Alonso at bay off a low first-time finish.
The Europa League holders looked to have recovered from the early waves of Chelsea’s attacks, but were undone by a slick – though relatively simple – move after 27 minutes.
Alonso found Kai Havertz down the left flank, and his low ball across goal was turned home by Ziyech; Unai Emery’s furious reaction making it clear how easily he felt his side gave up the goal.
Ziyech’s goal was just reward after a lively display with some excellent set-piece deliveries, but the Morocco international suffered a real setback before half-time.
Ziyech collided with an opponent at a corner – a seemingly innocuous incident, but one which left the Chelsea winger in agony. He needed lengthy treatment and departed with his arm wrapped in his shirt to suggested a dislocated shoulder.
That injury took the shine off Chelsea’s good start, and Albert Moreno almost equalised in injury time only to see his fierce volley cannon off the crossbar.
Villarreal started the second half in fine fashion: Edouard Mendy slipped on a goal kick, but Gerard Moreno could only hit the post to spare the Chelsea keeper’s blushes.
Chelsea looked leggy after the break with Villarreal looking the more likely of the two teams to score, and so it proved as Moreno struck a deserved equaliser with 17 minutes remaining.
The LaLiga side put together a slick team move with Boulaye Dia backheeling into the path of Moreno, who finished clinically high past Mendy first-time.
Villarreal finished the stronger of the two sides, but neither team could find a winner in 90 minutes as the game went to extra-time – though neither Tuchel nor Emery would likely have fancied an extra half an hour so close to the new season.
While it was a second European cup in two finals for Chelsea and Tuchel, the success will have been tempered by that injury to Ziyech with the winger almost certain to miss the start of the new season – and possibly a few more weeks beyond that.