Edouard Mendy, enjoying a first season in English football that could not have gone much better, is the next Chelsea player to answer 10 of our questions.
The goalkeeper has already recorded 22 clean sheets since arriving at Stamford Bridge in late September, and he currently has the best clean sheet ratio of any Chelsea goalkeeper to have played more than 20 times for the club (58 per cent).
Alongside those remarkable individual statistics is collective success. Mendy has helped us to a top-four position in recent months, and he has seven clean sheets in the first 10 Champions League appearances of his career en route to the semi-finals.
It is between the two legs against Real Madrid that we speak to the Senegalese, discussing his role in this Chelsea side, the Premier League’s physicality, life in London and his shut-out success…
Edou, what have you made of your first season at Chelsea so far?
It’s gone well, but it’s not finished! I’m proud, because at the moment it’s a good season for me and for the team. We are still in the FA Cup, the Champions League and the top four for the Premier League.
There have been a lot of games, and maybe good things are coming. I’m happy but it’s not finished. There are a few weeks left with huge targets for us. I am focused on finishing the season well and continuing to work on my development, and not thinking about what has gone before.
Have any elements of Premier League football surprised you?
Yes, the intensity. There is a lot more intensity than in France. When I saw games in England, I thought that, but when you live the situation, it’s different. It’s very difficult because compared to France the goalkeeper is not protected. Opponents can block you and stop you coming out of your goal, but contact is something I like. It doesn’t affect me.
Also, in December you don’t have a break. It was a new thing for me. I liked it! Of course, when you come in England, you think about fans. The atmosphere in England is amazing, but unfortunately I cannot see that yet, but I hope soon.
Are you a goalkeeper who likes to keep a close record of your clean sheets?
Yes, it’s clear a goalkeeper likes keeping clean sheets, it gives you pleasure and it’s good for your confidence. It’s also good for the confidence of the team, because a clean sheet is a collective effort. It’s really about a collective performance.
If the team does the necessary work in front of you, it’s easier to get a clean sheet. And when you are a player, you want to win titles and break records, and clean sheet records are a part of that.
You picked up six clean sheets in your first seven games. Did that aid your adaption?
That’s true, it helped me in my integration. When you start well at a new club it gives you confidence and helps you settle more quickly with the other players. That makes it easier for everyone.
Also, training helped me adapt. I have learned a lot with Hilar [Hilario], James [Russell] and Petr, and I am noticing my progress. I have learned tactical aspects, but also mental aspects. I am happy to progress and happy they are helping me.
Competition at Chelsea is fierce in every position, and Kepa has come into the team at times recently. Is it a positive to have other goalkeepers at the club driving you on?
Yes, of course. When you are at a big club there is competition for everyone. You have to prepare for that and keep performing. I am performing, but I have to stay concentrated.
There is a very high level in the group. Kepa has played some matches recently and they went well. I was happy for him, and the team. It says he is ready, too. I am happy for the team above everyone.
There is Willy, there is me, there is Kepa, and like the coach says there is competition and he can count on three goalkeepers who give a good level of performance. My relationship with Kepa is good, like my relationship with Willy. We work together, we play for the same team, the same shirt. We need to stay together, and we push each other in the training ground.
In recent months there have been long periods during games when you haven’t had much to do. Have you had to learn how to stay focused during those quiet periods?
Earlier in my career I was at clubs where you were much needed in goal. For concentrating that was easier. Now I am at Chelsea and we are very strong defensively. It’s possible our opponents only have one or two situations, maybe maximum three, where I have to respond. The work I do is to help the team and for the team to keep their performance level high.
Given Chelsea play out from the back a lot, have you had to adjust your game to manage that?
No, it’s something I did at Rennes. We were a possession-based team who liked to keep the ball. The goalkeeper was often used. It’s not something that bothers me. The coach has his idea of the game so it’s about adapting to that.
Away from the pitch, what have you made of English culture and London life during your seven months here so far?
I adore the English culture. That’s why my sister has lived here for seven years now, and why I came here every year. I adore London, the culture and the English mentality. I’m very happy to live here now. I live near Cobham but I have visited London with my family. Now it is easier we are not in full lockdown.
You’ve spoken in the past about following Chelsea and Real Madrid when you were growing up so this semi-final match-up must be even more exciting for you? What in particular will be required to beat Real?
When I was young I liked these teams a lot. I played a friendly against Real Madrid for Rennes, but this is the first time I have played a competitive game against them, and in the biggest competition, but I have to put the sentiment to one side and concentrate on the club’s objectives.
We need to play with the confidence we have accumulated in the previous matches we have played. We need to show our strength, and we need to play our best football if we want to advance.
Champions League runs with Chelsea usually require penalties at some stage. Is that something you’ve spoken about with Petr Cech?
I haven’t spoken with him about it, actually. I have spoken to him about a lot, but not that! I have memories of the penalties he saved for Chelsea, of course, because they helped the club win the Champions League, so it’s clear he will be the best person to speak to in preparation!