Although the young Chelsea team – Lampard and Cole were the only men in the XI that were over 30 – looked nervous at times, there were some moments of genius that accounted for the four goals in a game that was, for most parts, bossed by the home team. For the first, hitman Torres played his part. Through on goal, we were all baffled as to why he side-passed to Lampard rather than shooting himself, but as such, it paved the way for Lampard to scuplt a pass to Mata and the diminutive Spaniard to finish deliciously. The teamwork between the three in the build-up to the goal was fabulous to see; whilst we would of course like to see Torres score more goals himself, if he can’t do that, we’ll settle for the next best thing of him setting them up. Luiz’s free kick, Mata grabbing a second and Ramires scoring from close range sealed the win for Chelsea, although 4-0 was much too flattering to them. The goals, Luiz’s in particular, were great, but a vast amount of the reason Chelsea left Denmark with all three points has to go one man: Petr Cech.
As on Saturday against Arsenal, last night Cech was at his imperious best, making a save on 73 minutes from Nordsjælland player Joshua John, one that prevented the Danes from equalising. Had the home side scored then, it would have been difficult to see the Chelsea side – full of confidence players in Oscar, Torres, Luiz and the like – finding the spirit to score a winner, and the west London team would surely have left Denmark sorely with only a point. As such, thanks to Cech’s excellent save, it freed the reins and gave Chelsea the swagger to bag three more.
As on Saturday against Arsenal, last night Cech was at his imperious best, making a save on 73 minutes from Nordsjælland player Joshua John, one that prevented the Danes from equalising.
Cech has, post-Stephen Hunt collision (an incident that this Chelsea fan has no intention of forgiving nor forgetting even six years on), often been accused of being nowhere near his best. He does still have the odd lapse – the Reading game at Stamford Bridge earlier this season, he was at fault for Danny Guthrie’s goal. That gaffe proved not to be costly to Chelsea as they rallied to win 4-2, but there have been times when they have not been so fortunate – away at Wigan last season, for instance. Leading 1-0, Cech parried what should have been a simple save into the path of Jordi Gomez, who equalised, resulting in Chelsea dropping 2 costly points. Similarly, Cech holds himself and himself alone responsible for Czech Republic’s early exit out of Euro 2008, in which the Czechs threw away a 2-0 lead against Turkey and Cech was at fault for leaking the goals. Being a goalkeeper is a hard life in this sense that, if you make so many good saves, they start getting taken for granted, but if you make on error, it gets capitalized upon by everyone.
So with that, and a few other high-profile errors under his belt, Petr Cech’s goalkeeping credentials were called into question. But if footballers know anything, it is that the best way to silence your critics is simply to keep training, and play better. In the knockout stages of the Champions League, Cech was nothing short of marvelous. As with the way he tipped John’s shot onto the post yesterday he pulled saves out of his bag that had to be seen to be believed. In both legs against Barcelona, his experience and razor-sharp instincts were central to Chelsea’s progression. The second leg at Camp Nou, in particular, when Chelsea were down to ten men and their penalty area came under siege, the Czech seemed to fill up the entire goal at times. Chelsea have been much criticized as being the “jammiest Champions League winners ever”, and whilst I do not question that we were undoubtedly fortunate on many an occasion, you do make your own luck. This was epitomised by Messi’s penalty miss – admittedly Chelsea were fortunate that the he missed, but the way in which Cech wriggled about in goal to detract the Argentine helped cause him to miss.
In the knockout stages of the Champions League, Cech was nothing short of marvellous.
But the game that truly dispelled any notions of Cech being anything less than world-class was the Champions League final itself. The Chelsea goal was bombarded in that game, and the German team were frustrated to find that any questions they asked in attack, 6’5” stopper had all the answers. He certainly had the answers to where all the penalty takers would go. Faced with six penalties in the course of the game, Cech went the right way for every single one, saving half of them. Again, the notion of Chelsea being responsible for their own good fortune comes in – whilst it was unlucky for Schweinsteiger that he missed, Cech getting just a fingertip to his penalty was the thin line between it going in, and cannoning off the crossbar.
Asked about his heroics in the Champions League final, Cech revealed that he had studied in detail the penalty-taking habits of all the Bayern players. He divulged that it was Arjen Robben who had worried him the most, as the Dutchman takes some penalties to the left, some to the right. Cech’s logic for how he went the right way was a truly ingenious bout of empathy: “When you’re tired, players choose power rather than technique, rather than placing it. I thought he’d smash it somewhere near the corner and hope it would go through. He’s left-footed. I’m left-footed, and I thought if it was me I’d shoot across, left to right. Which is why I went to my left.” It is this kind of braininess that won Chelsea the Champions League, and shows that there was a hell of a lot more than just luck to it.
The evergreen Cech is 30, which in goalkeepers’ years, means he still has many seasons ahead of him. Along with Lampard, Terry, Drogba and Cole, he was the spine of the London club that saw them win so many trophies. Drogba has left, Lampard is, lamentably, getting older, and John Terry’s hardly guaranteed any starts either, as shown from last night, when Luiz was picked ahead of him. But it is impossible to envision a Chelsea future without Petr Cech, our immeasurably brave, clever goalie, who has saved us, quite literally, on so many occasions.
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