Football FanCast columnist Zak Bentley reflects on the worrying downturn in form of Petr Cech.
The 2005, 2007 and 2008 UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year winner and the man who held the Premier League clean sheets record until Edwin Van Der Sar's overhaul of last year sounds like the sort of goalkeeper that any team would be delighted to have. However, there is growing discontent among Chelsea fans about their number 1, Petr Cech.
Cech's slump started when the Blues faced Bolton at home last season in April at which point nearing the end of the game Chelsea led 4-0. Suddenly, flaps from Cech gave them a scare then a howler from him led to Bolton getting a goal back. They then went on to terrify Stamford Bridge scoring two more although Chelsea eventually prevailed. While it was highlighted, his error was regarded as a one-off. Then Chelsea faced Liverpool in the midweek game following in the Champions League. A free kick well outside the area and on the far right of the pitch taken by Fabio Aurelio left Cech scrambling and red-faced as he plucked the ball out of the net. Heads shook but as at the Bolton game, the error turned out not to be crucial although nearly proven to be by Liverpool and Chelsea progressed.
The Blues then entered May and hosted neighbours Fulham. After just 3 minutes Erik Nevland was set through and from a tight angle, shot and saw the ball slip through Cech's gloves before entering the net as people began to take more notice of the lack of form of what was perceived as one of the best keepers. Cech was also flapping at many crosses and hesitating in cases where he wasn't punished. Then come the last day of the season at the Stadium of Light where Sunderland's equaliser came through Cech dropping the ball collecting a cross. It marked what Cech would have hoped, and Chelsea fans would have hoped, the end of a bad two months for a man usually associated with John Terry and Frank Lampard in terms of reliability for Chelsea.
They thought it was. 4 games in, Cech had kept two clean sheets and Chelsea had 4 wins out of 4. Then came a visit to the Britannia Stadium and as Cech came for a cross, he was hopelessly beaten by Stoke's Faye to be followed by some particularly worrisome cross handling in an anxious tie against Porto in midweek. The scrutiny was now really starting to be placed on Cech and was exacerbated on against Wigan as he lifted his leg to bring down Hugo Rodallega and earn a sending off as Chelsea suffered their first defeat of the season and the media focused on Cech in the aftermath of the defeat. A few weeks later came another defeat against Aston Villa and while admittedly Ricardo Carvalho faulted, losing James Collins, an error which he was dropped for, Cech once again came and didn't get.
While Cech may be appearing at fault several times, his shot-stopping remains one of the best in Europe, as seen a number of times, most recently against Atletico Madrid. This may be why Carlo Ancelotti has stuck with him, or to look deeper into the club, there is no better replacement for the Czech Republic international. Keepers Hilairio and Ross Turnbull are not good enough to replace Cech and so his position is safe, especially since the sale of Carlo Cudicini in January. This problem is intensified by Chelsea's transfer ban which tightens Cech's position. If it is overturned or frozen by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the Chelsea board should scour their options for someone who will place Cech under proper opposition, or The Blues could find themselves not only with a dodgy keeper but a defence that doesn't trust him either.