KEPA was the penalty hero yet again as Chelsea beat Southampton to reach the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup.
The keeper was at fault for the visitors’ equaliser but more than made up for it with a string of late saves that kept the game level before another shootout save.
The Spaniard has now won five out of seven penalty shootouts since joining Chelsea, including three this season already.
Reece James scored the decisive spot-kick – just as he had done in the previous round against Aston Villa back in September.
The wing-back held his nerve once more to knock out Southampton in the cruellest of manners.
Mason Mount saw his 12-yarder spectacularly saved by Fraser Forster, but Marcos Alonso, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ben Chilwell came to his rescue.
And the Saints came unstuck after Theo Walcott hit the post and Will Smallbone blazed his attempt over.
Like the Villa clash, the game ended 1-1 after Che Adams cancelled out Kai Havertz’s opener.
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But it is Thomas Tuchel’s men who are through to the last eight for the first time in three seasons, while Ralph Hasenhuttl tastes defeat at Chelsea for the second time in a month.
Only Trevoh Chalobah, James, Hudson-Odoi and Havertz kept their places from the romp against Norwich.
Ross Barkley made his first start in a Chelsea shirt for 13 months as a winger, while Saul Niguez made his first appearance of any kind since the previous round.
The Saints also chopped and changed – Mohammed Salisu and Ibrahima Diallo the two keeping their places from Burnley while Blues loanee Armando Broja sat this one out.
The amount switches had its effect on the flow of the game early on, but Saul should have headed Chelsea in front from a corner after six minutes but for Forster’s diving save.
Havertz then fizzed a sizzler just past Forster’s post cutting inside from the left.
Yet for most parts the hosts were jittery, disjointed and wasteful – the complete opposite to their seven-goal display here at the weekend.
As for Saints, they were at least bringing an intensity similar to their last visit here on October 2 in the 3-1 defeat.
Adam Armstrong was up for it, as was Adams, with the duo working well to smother Chelsea’s midfield options.
The Blues continued to create chances however, and were rewarded just before the break as Havertz rose highest from a Hakim Ziyech corner.
Hasenhuttl had steam pouring out of his ears. Tuchel fist-pumped with delight.
But whatever either side drunk at half time, they need to sell it by the bottle, as the second half turned into an end-to-end slog-fest befitting of a cup classic.
Saints levelled early, catching the Blues’ defence asleep as Kyle Walker-Peters drove into the box and forced Kepa into a reaction save.
The Spaniard could only let the ball dribble towards goal as Adams smashed the equaliser into an empty net.
It was the first time Chelsea had conceded in any competition since last meeting Saints.
And then came the erratic exchange of punches as both teams smelled blood.
Havertz should have regained the lead almost instantly twice over as he fluffed two glorious opportunities with Forster’s goal gaping.
Armstrong returned the favour; his curling effort towards the far post only for Kepa to get down well and palm away.
Barkley had his moment to mark his return with a bang as Hudson-Odoi slipped him in before Forster’s huge frame got in the way.
Forster was called into action again as James tried his luck from a free-kick and Saul managed to waste yet another free header from a corner.
And if that wasn’t enough, then came the attacking cavalry.
Tuchel sent on Mount and Chilwell on for the hosts. Hasenhuttl responded with Walcott and Shane Long.
Chelsea appeared the more galvanised – Saul going close with another two chances. He cannot buy a goal right now.
The chances kept coming in injury time – Kepa producing two stunning saves to deny Salisu and Lyanco Vojnovic and Forster tipped over Malang Sarr’s thump.
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