Our first ever game against Villarreal and our first competitive fixture at Belfast’s Windsor Park has ended in a victory and silverware for the Blues with the UEFA Super Cup tonight’s prize, but it went all the way.
After the 90 minutes ended 1-1 and extra time added no further goals, a penalty shoot-out stretched to sudden death. Kai Havertz had missed our first kick but Kepa, brought on especially for the pens, saved two of them (and was booked!) to spark great scenes with his team-mates and end what had been a bit of penalty shoot-out hoodoo for the Blues in this competition.
In normal time, Hakim Ziyech’s prolific run continued from pre-season into this game when he opened the scoring following a silky Chelsea move from deep, but the Moroccan’s game was ended before half-time by what looked an arm or shoulder injury and the Blues performance was not the same again.
The European champions had been mostly the superior side during that first 45 minutes, with Timo Werner having gone closest to joining Ziyech on the scoresheet, but Villarreal did force one good save from Edouard Mendy and struck woodwork in the last action before the interval, and they then did the same early in the second half.
That close shave proved the beginning of an uplift from Unai Emery’s side which culminated with a Gerard Moreno equaliser with just under 20 minutes of normal time left on the clock.
That goal took the match into extra time. Christian Pulisic could not snap up a clear chance during that half-hour so a penalty shoot-out followed, but it all turned out just fine in the end!
This season-opening match-up between the winners of the Champions League (us!) and the side that lifted the Europa League trophy began with tonight’s Chelsea captain, N’Golo Kante, and his equivalent from Villarreal bringing on the trophies won back in May to sit alongside the smaller one up for grabs in this game.
We have now lifted the UEFA Super Cup twice with this year’s victory added to the one when we beat another Spanish side in Real Madrid in 1998 – Gustavo Poyet the lone goalscorer on that occasion.
Chelsea were the only club ever to have lost a UEFA Super Cup on penalties previously – and had done so twice, missing out to Bayern Munich that way in 2013 and Liverpool two years ago – but it is an unwanted record we no longer have.
Wide way forward
Unlike in some seasons, the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga are commencing on the same weekend this year so the fitness levels of these sides were in theory well-matched, and so were the formations with the Spaniards opting for our shape rather than the 4-4-2 they deployed in the Europa League final against Man United.
It was tonight’s Chelsea wing-backs, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Marcos Alonso, who created the first threat of this game with the latter winning a corner. Ziyech delivered that to Werner who caught his volley well. The Villarreal goalie Sergio Asenjo saved with agility.
In the ninth minute, Kante snapped up a loose ball outside the area and flashed a shot just wide. Soon after he was back doing his defensive work as superbly as usual when he nipped the ball away from a Villarreal man about to shoot.
Midway through the first half, young Trevoh Chalobah, continuing to enjoy a run in the side, was up from the back as central defenders are asked to do in Tuchel’s system and created a moment of havoc in the Villarreal penalty area, but we still awaited the first goal and the save from Werner apart, neither keeper had been made to work hard.
We did not have to wait much longer as the Blues moved the ball from our own half to the back of the Spaniards’ net in three touches. Alonso, putting in a tenacious display against his compatriots, drove a lovely pass down the flank into the path of Havertz who moved it into the middle at the first time of asking.
There waiting was Ziyech who stroked it home with just the right mix of precision and power to give Asenjo no chance.
Five minutes later our opponents produced their most dangerous moment of the first half up to that point but Mendy was too great an obstacle for Villarreal’s recently signed forward Boulaye Dia, an international team-mate of the Chelsea keeper.
The Blues could have extended our lead before half-time when Alonso almost caught Asenjo out at the near post and then Zouma volleyed a Ziyech free-kick over.
There were three minutes to go to the whistle when Christian Pulisic replaced the injured Ziyech but there was still time for more drama.
First there were bookings for Rudiger and Tuchel, the boss unhappy his player had been hauled up for what they thought looked a fair challenge, and then our opponents came within a whisker of equalising – Alberto Moreno meeting a cross at the far post and smashing it onto the crossbar. To the relief of the Chelsea fans behind that goal, they saw it bounce down just the right side of the goal-line.
Yellow Submarine rises
Havertz skidded a shot into the side-netting at the start of the second half but Villarreal went even closer after Mendy scuffed a clearance but then redeemed himself when he touched a Gerard Moreno shot onto the post.
The Spaniards were improving on their first-half performance and Chalobah was busy inside our penalty area while Mendy was called upon again to block a shot from Pervis Estupinan.
But a Villarreal goal was coming – and it did with 72 minutes on the clock. The Chelsea defences were carved apart by a skilful one-two with Gerard Moreno applying the finishing touch.
Extra-time was looming after a goal-bound shot from substitute Jorginho was charged down by one of the Yellow Submarine’s defenders; and then Pulisic in an offside position had one effort saved and an onside one blocked by Alonso, who himself smashed the ball into the side-netting with the last kick of the 90.
Extra time can’t decide it
It took 10 minutes of extra time before either side created a chance but when they did, it was a good one for the Blues but after the ball fell just right for Pulisic, he stabbed wide of the far post.
At least Tuchel’s men were in the ascendency again and Mason Mount had a shot palmed over at full stretch at the start of the second period. The Blues moves continued in the Villarreal half but to no avail so for our third Super Cup match running, it was all down to spot-kicks.
It was to be Kepa rather than Mendy to face the penalties however, with the Spaniard brought on just before the end of the 120 minutes, and he did the business!
Havertz went first – his was saved - 0-0
Gerard Moreno – he scored off the inside of the post – 0-1
Azpilicueta – scored with a firm strike - 1-1
Mandi – saved by Kepa down to his right - 1-1
Alonso – scored to the keeper’s right – 2-1
Estupinan – rolled his in – 2-2
Mount – scored to the keeper’s left – 3-2
Gomez – found the bottom corner with Kepa diving the right way – 3-3
Jorginho – rolled it in in trademark style – 4-3
Raba – scored with Kepa going the other way – 4-4
Pulisic – firmly struck – 5-4
Foyth – scored in the same place as Pulisic – 5-5
Rudiger – scored with the keeper rooted – 6-5
Albiol – saved by Kepa! - 6-5
Chelsea (3-4-3): Mendy (Kepa 119); Chalobah, Zouma (Christensen 65), Rudiger; Hudson-Odoi (Azpilicueta 82), Kante (c) (Jorginho 65), Kovacic, Alonso; Ziyech (Pulisic 43), Werner (Mount 65), Havertz.
Unused subs Chilwell, Emerson, James, Thiago Silva, Loftus-Cheek, Abraham.
Scorer Ziyech 27
Booked Rudiger 45, Tuchel 45+1, Kepa (during penalty shoot-out)
Villarreal (3-4-3): Asenjo; Foyth, Albiol (c), P Torres; Pino (Mandi 90), Trigueros (Gomez 70), Capoue (Gaspar 70), Pedraza (Estupinan 58); G Moreno, Dia (Raba 85), A Moreno (Morlanes 85).
Unused subs Rulli, Alcacer, Iborra, Barreno, Pena, Nino.
Scorer G Moreno 72
Booked Pino 61, Raba 119
Referee Sergei Karasev