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From Kepa To Krul: A History Of Goalkeepers Subbed In For Penalty Kick Shootouts

This innovative strategy is well-known in the footballing world, but in reality it is seldom-used.

Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel's decision to bring on Kepa Arrizbalaga late in the 2022 EFL Cup Final was not unprecedented — both for Chelsea and the footballing world. Kepa had replaced Mendy in the waning moments of extra time in the UEFA Super Cup against Villarreal earlier in the year, saving two penalties in Chelsea's shootout victory.

In fact, the Spaniard is an above-average keeper in his career when it comes to saving penalties. 

Substituting goalkeepers before a shootout is still not a prevailing strategy but has become common enough to be accepted by the footballing community. More often than not, it has been a successful ploy too.

The result of Sunday's match is now well-known, mostly for Kepa's failure on his own spot kick. Yet instead of berating the Chelsea number two, we are going to look at the history behind the move that put him in the spotlight.

History of Goalkeepers Subbed on For Penalty Kick Shootouts


Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea)

Kepa Arrizabalaga has been something of a penalty shootout savant this season for Chelsea. Not only did he win two shootouts in the EFL Cup this year, but he also won the UEFA Super Cup in August after coming on for Edouard Mendy in the 121st minute against Villarreal.

All of his previous work was quickly forgotten though during Sunday's EFL Cup Final. Kepa once again came on in the last minute of extra time to replace Mendy for the impending shootout, only this time the Spaniard conceded all 11 penalties he faced before blasting his decisive spot kick miles over the crossbar, thus costing Chelsea the win.

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Kepa's record in penalty kick shootouts is now *gasp* 6-3, including a 5-3 mark with the Blues and a 1-1 record when being subbed on late in extra time.

In his career, Kepa has stopped 29 percent of the penalties he has faced in regulation play — above the professional average of 25 percent. Many of those came while on loan in the lower leagues of Spain, but focusing on his saves with Athletic Bilbao and Chelsea only improves the Spaniard's penalty save rate.

Kepa has saved five of 12 spot kicks since his senior debut with Athletic Club in 2016 — good for 41.7 percent. His performance in shootouts has also been strong, as the Basque native has saved 30 percent of the penalties he has faced across eight shootouts.

As for his Senegalese counterpart, opponents have scored 30 of the 32 penalties they have taken against Edouard Mendy during normal time — a save rate of just 6.3 percent. In shootouts though, Mendy is much better, stopping 26.3 percent of spot kicks he has faced, making him nearly as effective as Kepa. 

Yet why is Mendy's shootout record only 1-3? Well, it is hard to win many shootouts when your team only converts 65 percent of their spot kicks (Kepa's teammates have scored in 80 percent of their shootout penalties).

Did Thomas Tuchel make the right call to send in Kepa for Mendy? It depends on how you look at it. Both players are above-average shot-stoppers in shootouts, and both have won shootouts this season (and Mendy did so earlier this month in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, no less).

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The change likely was not based purely on statistics though. Much of the efficacy of subbing in a keeper for a penalty kick shootout relies on the premise that the opposing team will be thrown off mentally. On paper, Kepa is the better keeper for a shootout, but his history of calamitous mistakes hardly makes for an intimidating presence between the posts. 

Mendy is the in-form keeper, he got the start over Kepa (and played well), and he is just a few weeks removed from winning the biggest penalty shootout of his life. Tough to choose against that.

Penalty Save Performance of Chelsea Goalkeepers

*Stats don't include 2022 EFL Cup Final* Kepa Arrizabalaga Edouard Mendy
Regulation Penalties Saved 7 2
Regulation Penalties Faced 24 32
Penalty Save % 29.2 6.3
Penalty Shootout Record 6-2 1-3
Shootout Penalties Saved 12 5
Shootout Penalties Faced 40 19
Shootout Save % 30 26.3
Team Shootout Conversion % 80.5 65

Tim Krul (Netherlands)

Believe it or not, Tim Krul was not the first goalkeeper to be subbed on specifically for a penalty shootout (more on that in a minute) but he will forever be the one to define the ingenuitive tactic.

Krul was named as the backup for the Netherlands at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as Ajax keeper Jasper Cillessen, an adept sweeper who was also strong with his feet, was given the starting shirt by manager Louis van Gaal. 

A breath-taking 5-1 win in the opener against Spain harkened memories of the free-flowing football the Dutch had come to love, but when it came to the knockout stages, van Gaal's side reverted to pragmatic football.

The quarterfinal match against Costa Rica was especially tight, and with penalties beckoning, van Gaal used his last substitution to bring on Krul for Cillessen. 

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The penalty shootout — which had long brought calamity to Dutch football — was beneath the Dutch, unbefitting for a team that was supposed to demonstrate the superiority of Total Football on the final scoreline.

The nation had lost four of its previous five shootouts in major competitions, but van Gaal saw this move as a way to erase the decades of negative memories.

Krul had saved just two of the 20 penalties he had faced at Newcastle but had impressed during shootout practice at Dutch training sessions. 

"We felt Tim would be the most appropriate keeper to save penalties," van Gaal said afterward. "Every keeper has specific qualities. Tim has a longer reach and a better track record with penalties than Cillessen."

There was also the surprise factor: Costa Rica likely watched film on Jasper Cillessen and analyzed his penalty-saving techniques, meaning Krul's tendencies were less known.

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This surprise carried over to the Dutch ranks too. Only a few coaches were informed of the possibility pre-match, leaving Cillessen in the dark.

Dutch goalkeeping coach Frans Hoek only told Krul of the strategy on game day. According to Krul: "Hoek came to me and said, 'If we have a sub left there is a chance you'll have to come in.' And then it happened."

Krul went the right way for all five Costa Rican shots, saving two of them to lead the Dutch to victory (while employing some glorious mind games in the process).

A similar situation also arose in the semifinal match, with Holland and Argentina in a deadlock with penalties looming. Only this time the Dutch were out of substitutions. Cillissen stayed in goal but didn't save any of the four penalties he faced.

Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder both misfired for the Dutch, the the Orange were out of the World Cup. Tim Krul's penalty performance though still lives on.

Zeljko Kalac (Leicester City)

When 6 feet 7 inches tall goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac come on in the 119th minute of the 1996 Football League First Division play-off Final, he, as well as the 73,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, assumed that the match was headed to penalties.

The match between Leicester City and Crystal Palace was poised at a goal apiece, and Leicester manager Martin O'Neill thought that the sizeable Australian keeper would be a better shootout option over 5 feet 10 inches tall starter Kevin Poole.

The shootout never happened though, as in injury time the Foxes bundled home a winner following a free kick. The goal gave Leicester promotion to the Premier League and O'Neill's interesting substitution — likely the first of its kind — did not become the story of the match.

Dele Aiyenugba (Enyimba FC)

Dele Aiyenugba did not get much playing time during the 2003-04 season. While at Nigerian club Enyimba FC, Aiyenugba was stuck behind Victor Enyeama who would go on to earn 101 Nigerian caps while enjoying a long career with Lille in Ligue 1.

Yet Aiyenugba still managed to be a catalyst in Enjimba's 2004 African Champions League title. The Nigerian keeper came on late in extra time during the semifinals and finals, making pivotal penalty saves in both shootouts to ensure his club became champions of Africa.

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Pietro Spinosa (Castel di Sangro)

Nicknamed the "Miracle of Castel di Sangro," the finest moment in the history of the tiny Italian club in June 1996. The club comes from Abruzzo, a town of 5,000 in the hinterland of central Italy, and in 1989 they reached the professional ranks for the first time by earning promotion to Serie C2 (fourth tier).

By 1996, they were in Serie C1 (third tier) and vying for promotion. The Giallorossi finished second in Group B that season, meaning they were headed to the playoffs. The side was matched up against Ascoli, a team it had lost two twice during the season. The match was scoreless for 90 minutes, and the 30 minutes of extra also passed without a goal.

But near the end of extra time, Castel di Sangro manager made a curious move. He subbed off starting goalkeeper Roberto De Juliis and brought in 34-year-old backup Pietro Spinosa — who had not played a single minute that year. The match went to penalties, and after six spot kicks from each side, the score was still level. Then up stepped Spinosa, who saved the Ascoli penalty and miraculously sent Castel di Sangro to Serie B for the first time. 

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