Unbeatable Edouard Mendy vindicated Thomas Tuchel's decision - so why did he not finish with him too?

Unbeatable Edouard Mendy vindicated Thomas Tuchel's decision - so why did he not finish with him too? - AFP
Unbeatable Edouard Mendy vindicated Thomas Tuchel's decision - so why did he not finish with him too? - AFP

Kepa Arrizabalaga may have been the penalty shootout fall-guy, but Chelsea did at least have one goalkeeper who, even in defeat, produced a heroic Carabao Cup final performance.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel afterwards said he would not rejudge his decision to take off Edouard Mendy for the shootout and it is impossible to know how things might have unfolded if Kepa had remained on the bench. What we do know, however, is that Mendy proved himself unbeatable before being replaced by Kepa and his confidence would have been sky-high going into the penalties.

Mendy did not deserve to finish on the losing team and fully vindicated Tuchel’s decision to start with him ahead of Kepa, who had not just played for Chelsea up to the final, but had kept them in the tournament with penalty shootout heroics against Aston Villa and Southampton in the early rounds.

It was the second time in two weeks that the Spaniard found himself dropped for a final, having also seen Mendy take his place for the final of the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.

Kepa had played superbly in the semi-final of that competition, but the view at Chelsea, most certainly influenced by technical and performance advisor Petr Cech, is that, as No 1, Mendy should start the biggest and most important games. He should probably have finished it as well.

During his playing career, Cech hated the idea of having a ‘cup keeper’, believing that no top sides would leave out their best outfield players for a final and Tuchel seems to have taken that view on board.

Tuchel had stuck with Kepa for the final of the FA Cup, which Chelsea lost last season, but has changed his approach and admitted last Friday that he could not allow sentiment to cloud his decision making for this game.

Kepa will almost certainly step back in for Wednesday night’s FA Cup trip to Luton Town, but that is unlikley to make him feel much better having watched from the substitutes’ bench at Wembley and then missed the spot-kick that handed Liverpool victory, having not saved any of the Reds’ penalties.

Had Kepa planned to go knocking on his head coach’s door on Monday morning, then the shootout and Mendy’s stunning double save, made in the first half, will have made him think again.

Sadio Mane knows exactly how good his Senegal international team-mate is and yet even he cannot have thought the 29-year-old would have been able to stop him opening the scoring in the 31st minute.

Mendy had already made a fine save to deny Naby Keita and when the ball rebounded to the feet of Mane just a couple of yards out, the £20million signing made the most stunning of recoveries to divert his shot up and over the crossbar.

Edouard Mendy made a stunning save to deny Sadio Mane - AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Edouard Mendy made a stunning save to deny Sadio Mane - AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

It was one of the best saves of Mendy’s Chelsea career so far, which is quite some achievement, given his outstanding form since joining from Rennes.

Over the course of the past 10 months, Mendy had become a European and world champion with Chelsea and an African champion with Senegal, along with Mane.

The pair squared up again shortly after the restart, with Mendy once again coming out on top as he raced from his line to beat Mane to ball that had threatened to send the Liverpool forward through on goal.

If there was one man on the Wembley pitch who had earned some good fortune, then it was Mendy and he was relieved to see Mohamed Salah fail to score after he had sent a clearance straight to Fabinho. With just Mendy to beat, Salah lifted the ball over the goalkeeper but Thiago Silva got back to clear even though the Egyptian’s effort was heading wide.

Mendy was beaten, when Joel Matip headed in from close range but the goal was ruled out, following a Var check, for an offside against Virgil van Dijk and he had to make another good save to stop Luis Diaz breaking the deadlock with 14 minutes remaining.

The biggest compliment that could be paid to Mendy was that it never looked like Diaz was going to score, despite the fact the Colombian had worked himself into a one-on-one position, and sure enough Chelsea’s goalkeeper kept the shot out.

Mendy, not for the first, second or third time, was taking on the look of somebody who was just not going to be beaten as, in the dying minutes of normal time, he saved from Diaz again, recovered to help stop Liverpool scoring in the resulting goalmouth scramble, and then kept out a van Dijk header from a corner. Liverpool will have been delighted not to face him in the penalty shootout.