Having faced them twice with very different outcomes relatively recently, Petr Cech is expecting another difficult day against Southampton on Saturday.
We met the Saints twice inside a fortnight in January with a resounding 5-1 FA Cup victory at St Mary’s followed by a disappointing 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, in a game where we had been leading comfortably.
Despite their upward curve the south-coasters replaced manager Nigel Adkins with Mauricio Pocchetino shortly afterwards, and Cech now sees a more attacking and confident side.
‘In football, everything is different – you can have a first half that is completely different from the second half,’ he said. ‘First half you can be all over the place, but second half you can have a great performance and win the game. In the away game against Southampton we were very effective, taking our chances, and then at home we had a very good half – but the last half an hour of the game we allowed them to come back into it. You cannot do that in the Premier League.
‘The teams are strong enough to grab the chance if you give it to them – everyone in the Premier League has that quality and will take it if you let them.
‘They changed manager with Pocchetino and they are more attacking, more organised with very good pressing, which makes them more aggressive – and, in turn, more confident because of the success they’ve been having. It will be a different game, again.’
This week, Cech collected his 100th international cap for the Czech Republic, the second Chelsea man to reach such a milestone this year following Ashley Cole’s century for England last month. It was a huge honour for the goalkeeper.
‘It feels great. I’ve been lucky to keep my place in the Czech goal ever since I started as the number one,’ he said. ‘When you get 100 caps as a goalkeeper, it’s a very good achievement because you have to be the first-choice goalkeeper to get that far.
‘As a number two, you don’t get to play much, even though you get called up to every squad. Jan Lastuvska is the current number two and he must have been with me at least 40 times – but he only has three or four caps, and he only won his first cap after being called up 30-something times. He travelled everywhere, trained hard, but it took him 30 calls to win that cap.
‘If you’re not number one, you can’t reach 100 caps, so I’m really proud that I’ve kept my place since 2002. I missed a few games due to injury and could maybe have 15 more caps, but no complaints – it’s a great achievement. There have been great memories in that time, a lot of ups and downs in terms of results but overall there have been far more positives than negatives.’
The milestone was reached with a 3-0 win in Armenia. Not glamorous, but effective for his country’s World Cup qualifying hopes.
‘The main thing was to win the game!’ he laughed. ‘I kept a clean sheet, we played well and won the game. I got a special 100 cap from UEFA and a medal, too. And there was the shirt with 100 on the back and a flag from the FA with the date of the game and 100 caps written on it. It was a nice surprise.’
While some have rested, like Cech much of the Chelsea squad has been in international action, but he believes the side picked by Rafael Benitez will be fresh enough when it emerges at St Mary’s.
‘What people don’t realise is that moving the international matches forward one day was a massive step, a massive plus,’ he reasoned. ‘If you come back from the internationals on Thursday, completely knackered from the game and all the travelling, and then you travel with your club team on Friday to go somewhere for a game on Saturday, it’s hard.
‘If you play on Tuesday and travel on Wedneday, that gives you two days to be ready for the match at the weekend. That makes it a massive change because we are used to having this number of days between games for our club side. We shouldn’t suffer.’