Petr Cech has the chance to set a new Chelsea record this afternoon.
Admittedly the odds on it happening are limited by the need for the team to be awarded a penalty at Sunderland, but should that occur, who is betting against our long-serving goalkeeper saving it given his ability to do so in recent times?
On Wednesday night when Cech prevented Nordsjaelland’s spot-kick from entering the net, it was his eighth penalty save for the Blues (not including shoot-outs). That puts him level in the club’s all-time list with two former Chelsea keepers – Bill G Robertson who was one of the 1955 League Championship-winning squad, and Reg Matthews, who was England goalie when he signed in 1956 and played for five seasons until the emergence of Peter Bonetti.
In Cech’s case, penalty saving is a quality he has refined over the course of his eight and a half years at the club. He saved one in his first season, away at Blackburn, but then none for the next three seasons.
In 2008/09 West Ham’s Mark Noble was denied from the spot at Upton Park before two penalty stops in the 2009/10 Double year – from Louis Saha away at Everton, and then at Wembley in the FA Cup final against Portsmouth when Kevin-Prince Boateng was the player frustrated by Cech’s reaction speed.
Clint Dempsey at Fulham was added to the list the following season before last campaign, Goodison Park witnessed another Cech penalty save, this time from Leighton Baines, and most famously of all, Arjen Robben was denied in Munich.
Having equalled the record this week, Cech talks to the official Chelsea website about methods he has worked on to achieve this success.
‘You put the hard work in, you just try to search for possibilities, you try to learn to read the shooter,’ he says.
‘If you can get some images of the way the players shoot it can help, but it is never definite because they keep changing it. The most important is to observe and to try to find something that can help you make the decision.
‘You have to take into consideration what moment of the game it is; if he’s right-footed or left-footed; is he or isn’t he watching the keeper. All this makes the procedure complicated, but we really work with that and try to find the small things which can help to make the right decision, and you need a little bit of luck to get it right.’
Looking back on the eight Cech has saved so far, there is plenty of drama involved. He has good reason to value the first – from Paul Dickov at Ewood Park as Chelsea fought hard for a narrow win on the way to winning the league for the first time in half a century. On a personal note, Cech was just a few minutes away from breaking Peter Schmeichel’s Premier League record for time without conceding.
‘I remember I was thinking “no way he scores because I can’t be this close to the record and then not get it,’ Cech says.
‘The one in the FA Cup final was another massive moment. It was 0-0 and we had kept missing chances, hitting the bar, hitting posts and then suddenly Portsmouth had a pen and you got the feeling that this is one of those games when you miss 15 chances and you lose 1-0 from a pen. But the penalty was saved, which you can see was a turning point because a few minutes later we scored.’
A few more minutes further on and the Double had been won. A penalty save, as it would in Munich two years later, paving the way for Chelsea history to be made.
The save at Fulham in 2011 was in the last minute and against Baines at Everton was immediately after Ross Turnbull had been sent off.
‘I was frozen because it was very cold that night and I didn’t have much time to warm up,’ recalls the 30-year-old.
‘I remember [goalkeeper coach] Christophe Lollichon saying, “try to warm up during the first five minutes when you’re out there.” And I told him, “okay, I first start by saving this one, then I can warm up!”
‘It happened so we were laughing about it afterwards.’
When it comes to choosing which penalty stops Cech rates highest from a technical point of view, he selects two, first moving outside the list of eight to choose one from a shoot-out – from Ivica Olic in the Champions League final because he went to cover a low shot, but the player shot high yet he was still able to go with other hand to get the ball.
The second is the FA Cup final one.
‘I had already committed to going the other way so I had to use my legs. Although you’re already committed in the air, you need to always make sure you can use all your limbs to save the ball,’ Cech explains.