Having broken our all-time clean sheet record last weekend at Hull, edging ahead of Peter Bonetti’s long-standing record, Petr Cech has been discussing some of his most memorable shutouts against today’s opponents.
Seven of our Czech keeper’s 209 clean sheets have come against Manchester United, including his first, on his Chelsea debut, his 50th, when we sealed the league title in 2006, and his 200th, in the goalless draw earlier this season.
At the beginning is as good a place as any to start, so the official Chelsea website asked Cech to cast his mind back to 15 August 2004. A sunny summer day in west London heralded a new dawn in the history of Chelsea Football Club, as Jose Mourinho took charge of his first competitive match as our manager. It was a momentous day for Cech, too, selected ahead of Carlo Cudicini for the season’s opener.
‘It was my first game and it meant so much to everyone,’ he recalls.
‘I got picked ahead of Carlo so I was really under pressure and needed to play well so I had a massive concentration during the whole game. I don’t remember much of it to be fair but I didn’t really enjoy the game because you really concentrate so much and focus to play well that everything is sort of surpassed.
‘I didn’t have many things to do but I would say it was a great win in the end. From that game we knew we were competitive, that we could actually play to win the league which we did in the end.’
That 1-0 victory kick-started the Mourinho era, and it was mirrored towards the end of his first spell in charge in the 2007 FA Cup final. Only John Terry had a winner’s medal in that competition before we beat Man United under the new Wembley arch, so for Cech and most of his team-mates, the domestic set was complete.
‘It was a very tight game, very tactical, of course because it went to extra time we needed to make sure we didn’t concede. There were not many chances in the game but we did really well at the back.
‘I did well a few times: I went down to Rooney’s feet twice to rob him. They were important interventions and then obviously Didier scored the winner. It was the first final at the new Wembley and I won my first FA Cup, so it was special.’
Our most recent clash with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge was last April, also in the FA Cup, and Cech preserved his clean sheet that afternoon with an extraordinary reaction save to keep out Javier Hernandez’s close-range header. It surely ranks as one of the greatest ever seen at Stamford Bridge.
‘At that stage it allowed us to go through to the semi-final of the FA Cup,’ Cech points out.
‘It was a great save because I was going all the way to the other side and I needed to get a hand on it and I managed to get enough to flick it over the bar. I only slightly touched it and eight times out of 10 it might not have been enough but everything went perfectly.
‘It was a great game, Demba scored an absolutely unbelievable goal and we got through to the semi-finals, where we were a bit unlucky not to go through.’
Another clean sheet this afternoon would be most welcome for Cech, who last week won a vote to name the best goalkeeper of the Premier League era, but as with every game he has faced against the current Premier League champions, any victory would suffice against a side he believes can still retain their title this season.
‘There are still a lot of games to play and they play all the rivals. If they win all those face-to-face games and their remaining games, they can still win the title. They are not out of the title race, but they need to win against us because if the gap goes to six points behind us it’s different than if the gap goes to 12.
‘It’s a six-point game for them and for us as well because if we win we’ll have a good advantage over them and we’ll stay close to Man City and Arsenal at the top. It’s a very important game for both teams.’