Petr Cech has not seen a goal go past him at Stamford Bridge in our last nine home games. On the road, however, it is a different story. Since the magnificent 1-0 victory at Manchester City in early February we have not managed to keep a clean sheet away from home, a run of seven games that stretches across three different competitions.
There are extenuating circumstances, of course. Johnny Heitinga’s bundled effort for Fulham on 1 March came when we were already three to the good (as was the case for the last goal we conceded at the Bridge, Javier Hernandez’s consolation in our defeat of Man United in January). Meanwhile goals shipped on recent European ventures to Istanbul and Paris did not prove costly as consecutive 2-0 home victories ensured Champions League progression.
As Cech contemplates our most recent away disappointments in this country, he finds some solace in the manner in which we have conceded at Villa Park and Selhurst Park.
‘Sometimes you manage to score first and everything is different, the opponent has to open up,’ he points out. ‘Sometimes when you play away the home team defends anyway, and sometimes you can get unlucky and concede first and then it becomes more difficult.
‘In the league we lost the last two games away. One was unlucky and the other one we got red cards in. At Aston Villa we attacked and tried to win with 10 men and we left an open door at the end so it was an unlucky game. At Crystal Palace we had an unlucky deflection for an own goal and they managed to defend after that. Sometimes it’s just the way the game is played.’
Our past 11 games have seen Cech – who has 15 clean sheets in the league this season, more than any other keeper – stationed behind the same quartet of Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta. It is a beneficial arrangement, according to our no. 1.
‘The advantage is that the back four, when they’re playing altogether, have some things that everybody just does automatically. The players are so used to playing next to one another everybody is behaving in more or less the same way in certain situations.
‘For them it becomes automatic. They know that he’s there because he’s always there – that is his way of playing games. As a goalkeeper you know what the people are more or less doing but with the quality of defenders we have here when we swap them it doesn’t really make a difference.’
We travel to South Wales today on the back of a famous midweek European victory. Our Czech keeper is no stranger to memorable Champions League nights at Stamford Bridge such as the one we enjoyed against PSG on Tuesday, and he is therefore well-placed to give his verdict on yet another dramatic European success.
‘I would say it was the same as the Napoli game. We lost there 3-1 as well and we had a two-goal disadvantage but we managed to go through. That time we had to score three to get extra-time because we conceded so I would say this time it was really crucial not to concede.
‘We totally deserved to go through because we hit the crossbar, we had some chances, and we kept going. That was something I really liked about our performance – we never gave up.’
Thankfully not only did we not give up but we had a goalkeeper alert to the dangers posed by PSG after we nudged ourselves ahead in the tie with very little time remaining. One particularly outstanding Cech save from Marquinhos preserved our slender advantage.
‘You know in the last five minutes they have nothing to lose. It was a really frantic five minutes where it’s hard to control the ball and we didn’t do that which is why they had some actions where it led to the corners and two shots.
‘Overall you always expect that last five minutes when the opponent plays with basically 11 attacking players. We had to make sure we defended well and we did.’