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Petr Cech column: Setting the tone and Romelu's return

In the first of a new regular column, our great former goalkeeper and current technical and performance advisor Petr Cech shares some of his views and recollections on Chelsea and the game of football.

With two Premier League wins and a draw plus the UEFA Super Cup captured, the current Chelsea side has had a good start to the season, which leads Cech to discuss strong starts to a campaign in general (and he played in a few!), plus he recalls Romelu Lukaku at the club the first time around…

I always say that to do well in a league season, it does not matter how you get to the end of it. If for example to win the league it means you have to win 30 games, draw five and you lose just three games, then it does not matter if you lose the first three, or lose every 10th game, as long as you manage to accumulate those wins.

But it's true as well that sometimes at the beginning of the season you set the tone. If you start well, you put yourself in position where you have a buffer. You know that everybody else is chasing and they feel the pressure if they see that you’ve won again and again and again.

When you start well, there is the advantage that first you settle, the confidence builds, and then secondly there is the atmosphere to work well every day. Once you win, you get a winning habit.

'Over the years Romelu has obviously improved and you can see when he talks that he was conscious about needing to improve this part of his game.'

photo of Petr Cech Petr Cech

When you give yourself a buffer, you know that probably a defeat or one bad game inevitably will appear, but you know you have something almost like a joker in your pocket to use against that game.

When I was playing for Chelsea we often had good starts because we would have always worked hard in the pre-season. Pre-season was always a huge part of the success. Every single time we had a good pre-season, you knew the season would be good and every time the pre-season we felt was not right, the start wasn't right and the season was more difficult.

In judging what was a good pre-season, I am talking about people needing to get fit.

When Luiz Felipe Scolari was manager in 2008, we started well, won four of our first five games, but then later on we faded for different reasons.

We had a good start but pretty much the same people who started the first four games played pretty much the whole season, so we had a huge divide between players who were really fit and players who were not.

When you don't have the base, and you are too fit too early, then you get tired early as well. I think we had a combination of that coming into November and December that season. That is where everything started going in the wrong direction because we didn’t have the big base to last for 38 games at such an intensity. We could feel it was wrong.

Also, ahead of the season after we won the Champions League in 2012, for that pre-season I felt that we hadn’t done enough. I thought we should have trained more than we did. We concentrated on some games, and then we had more games, and we had less training sessions and I think it cost us.

We won the Europa League at the end of the season but we lost the manager, Roberto Di Matteo, along the way and did not do as well as we could have done, and it was because we didn't feel ready to start the season and it showed. Consciously when you know that pre-season is strong and you feel fit and ready to go then that is when you have a good start. You know you're ready and it lasts as well. You have fuel in the tank for the whole season, not only for a couple of months.

The most outstanding start we had was in my second season when we won our first nine league games. We were the reigning champions and everybody had an extra motivation to beat us. Everybody was thinking Chelsea have had a great season the year before but can they repeat it.

We did not concede a goal in the first six games and I remember one of the newspapers put up a sum of money for the first player to score against us to give to charity. Then Luke Moore scored for Aston Villa but we still won 2-1 and that was seven games into the season.

When you go on to start with nine wins, it puts everybody else off. You put the others under the pressure of chasing. You know if you have one bad game, it does not really matter whereas if you are the team that has to keep chasing, you can’t afford to have one bad game.

So it is always good to start well but as I stated at the beginning, ultimately it does not matter how you get to the final points total you need. If you lose the first three matches and then you win everything else, you still get there, but it's harder.

In the end the accumulation of the points is the most important thing and it is most important to finish well, but the start helps you to set the tone and everybody feels better when you have a good start.

Lukaku’s unfinished business

We have welcomed Romelu Lukaku back to Chelsea, a team-mate of mine when he first came to the club 10 years ago.

When you start playing at the age of 16 years old in a top professional league like the Belgian one and you start scoring goals, it obviously shows that you have a talent and some potential.

When he moved to Chelsea, he had the disadvantage at that time that Didier Drogba was at the full peak of his form and his ability. Didier was scoring goals and we knew exactly how to use him.

When Romelu arrived at Chelsea, his hold-up game was not the same as it is now, because at Anderlecht he was used to concentrating on running. He would get the ball and kill everybody with speed, power and his finishing. At Chelsea at that time, we used the number nine in a slightly different way for the hold-up play, and also it's a more challenging league than Belgium.

He needed a little bit of time to adapt, his career took a different path and he's been successful everywhere he’s been. Over the years he has obviously improved and you can see when he talks that he was conscious about needing to improve this part of his game.

And he's done it, so that is credit to him, and we are delighted to have him back. He knows what he's coming in to and probably has a little bit of unfinished business here which he can nicely complete if everything goes the way we all wish.

Everybody's path is different and it shows that if things are not working at the beginning, you should not dismiss any opportunities or different pathways.

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