SAVING ACCOUNT

Posted on: Sat 26 May 2012

When other members of the squad carried Petr Cech high in celebratory fashion at the end of the Munich match, it was a clear sign of appreciation for the keeper's performance, and if there is one player who deserves to stand alongside Didier Drogba as adding an extra-special touch to the collective effort that won two trophies, it is surely the 30-year-old goalkeeper.

The man who works closest with Cech and knows him best, Chelsea's goalkeeper coach Christophe Lollichon, has his own word for it - decisive - and the Czech international's displays can be labelled decisive in action and decisive in outcome. Lollichon is using the word in the second context.

'Petr, in the last two months of the season, was decisive on many occasions,' he says.

FA Cup Final

'It was not easy because we played 18 games in two months, and it was mostly recovery and just small training sessions before the games, but he kept his focus and we can be very happy with his performance.'

Though the previous season had not been a successful one for the team in general, Cech came into 2011/12 having been named Chelsea Player of the Year for the campaign before. He had high standards to maintain and Lollichon believes that was achieved.

'Petr has been on the top level for a lot of seasons,' says the French coach, 'and he arrives at a good period during the season. There are other times when it is a bit more difficult, not because he makes big mistakes but sometimes he is not decisive - I can think of games against Arsenal and Manchester United and it was not only him, it was general in the team.

'But from the beginning of the season and the first game at Stoke City away, and that is always a special game, Petr was very good except for two or three games when there were no big mistakes but he was not decisive in these few moments.

'To maintain this level for a long time proves he is fantastic keeper with a good focus, who always tries to analyse his performance and always tries to do his best in training.'

As the momentum of the season built, Cech's contribution took on increasing significance. Against Barcelona at home he kept a clean sheet with the pick of his saves one from Carles Puyol with five minutes to go, and then came the rearguard action in Camp Nou and one of the best but less-celebrated saves of the season. Inside the final 10 minutes he pushed a Lionel Messi shot onto the post. Many watching thought it had struck woodwork directly.

'From the bench I thought the same thing,' admits Lollichon, 'but he touched it just on the top of the fingers and Petr during the two legs against Barcelona was absolutely fantastic, not only for his saves but also for the position he had during the game.

'We played very deep and the distance between him and the defensive line was perfect, so he could maybe go forward and intercept a pass between two Chelsea players but at the same time, he had to be very careful because with Messi, Xavi, Iniseta, Sanchez, these players can try to lob him.

'To keep his concentration on that position for 90 minutes was a big performance, and don't forget the penalty because although Petr didn't touch that, he had an influence on Messi.'

Cech

Player and coach analysed video of all Messi's penalties and noted something they thought they could play on. Cech carried out the plan precisely, Messi hit the bar and the rest is history.

'We were lucky because five centimetres lower and he scores,' notes Lollichon, 'but Messi was a little bit disturbed.'

Messi's run without a goal against Chelsea was extended to eight games, but it is a unique threat posed by the Argentinean and needs special consideration. A keeper concentrating on narrowing angles to deal with shots either side is more likely than not to see the ball popped over his head.

'Messi is able to do everything and before the games I analysed all the goals he had scored this season, 62 of them, from different distances and different space,' says Lollichon, 'and a lot of goalkeepers against Messi arrive like a victim.

'A good goalkeeper has to come with good confidence and Petr has this capacity to not show anything for the striker, no signal and no space. Against Messi it is very important to cover the low space and the high space because from three metres away he can chip it, and Petr was always ready to cover.'

It was a very different type of attacking that Cech managed to defy against Liverpool at Wembley. His save that pushed Andy Carroll's header onto the bar with just centimetres to spare has even been described by some as the greatest in an FA Cup Final.

'It was one of Petr's most spectacular,' decides Lollichon (pictured below left), 'but I like most the movement he did when the ball was crossed. He didn't stay still and surprised, and this was fundamental to have the chance to save. Then it was a strong header but all of Petr's arm from the shoulder until the tip of the fingers didn't move, it was like wood. And every day we work on this.'

Cech and Lollichon

It brought back memories of the Czech international's point-blank range save from Frederic Piquionne in the 2010 FA Cup Final against Portsmouth, a day when he also saved a penalty, as he did with momentous consequences last weekend in Munich.

Cech followed his spot-kick save from Arjen Robben in Champions League Final extra time with two in the shoot-out; the second one from Bastian Schweinsteiger again not obvious on first viewing, but as with the Messi save in the semi-final, the touch was vital to turn it onto the post.

Between the FA Cup and Champions League Finals Cech was rested for two games having played over 60 during the season for club and country, a joint decision by the coaching staff who although conscious that he needed to stay sharp, didn't want to risk losing another key player in light of the suspended four.

The plan worked well. To have dived the correct way to all six Bayern Munich penalties he faced over the course of the Final could be down to good guess work, but it is hard to imagine the diligent preparation by keeper and coach didn't play a part.

It was a wonderful climax to the season, but looking back on the whole nine months, which was Lollichon's favourite Cech save of 2011/12?

'I remember a lot saves,' he says, 'for instance the save on his right side during the first half against Napoli, but I prefer to remember the good positioning. The most important thing was where he was before the saves.'

In part two of the interview, Christophe Lollichon will talk about other Chelsea goalkeepers.