Ten years on from one of his greatest achievements, Petr Cech looks back on the 2011/12 campaign and it’s big turnaround, and remembers one major tactical success from the Munich final itself…
As today is the 10th anniversary of the club winning the Champions League for the first time, it would be really nice if we can honour it with a win later in the day against Leicester. Victory in that match is obviously a target anyway because we want to finish third in the Premier League and we want to finish the season on a high, but it is a special feeling to have a game on the day of a big anniversary. It's not always the case.So a 10-year anniversary, a home game, and then something else to look back to and celebrate in 10 days as well, when we have the anniversary of winning the Champions League last season - which is great.
The Champions League victory in 2012 at first feels like 10 years ago to me because since then so many things happened, but then again it has all really gone past fast. It sort of feels distant but every time you look back you remember your feelings then and for certain the 2011/12 season was a big story, the way the team turned it around.When we changed the coach during the season, with Roberto Di Matteo taking over from Andre Villas Boas, it was a bit of a shock to the system for everyone and this was where people had to draw a line and restart.It was a fresh start for everybody and that was probably the key. What was wrong was wrong but if you were happy or not happy before it or whatever was your problem, now it was a new start and you put new energy into it. Sometimes an improvement is what the new effort brings.
The Napoli revival
The belief within the team came back with the way that having been 3-1 down from the first leg of our Champions League game against Napoli, we overcome them in the second game which was after we changed the coach. Let's be honest, although we went 2-0 up in that second game, when Napoli scored one in the second half you definitely thought this is going to be difficult!The tie was on the edge but we knew we just needed another goal to have extra time so we were saying if we have to go out, we go out giving everything to try to overcome the deficit, and in the end it paid off. We did really well. When Branislav Ivanovic scored our fourth goal in extra time, you could feel the place was rocking and we had something to take from it and to carry on.
Amazingly, it worked in the FA Cup which we also won and it worked in the Champions League that season. The improvement didn't really work in the league. It was just not the same. Sometimes there are things you can't really explain. This is how the chemistry works.It was not because we were thinking to concentrate on competitions we could win. We were pretty much just about surviving in every round of the Champions League. It felt that one bad game and we would be out and that was the feeling with the FA Cup as well.
A winning team
We were surviving every round in Europe. Let’s not begin thinking we played great games, even if we played great games in terms of finding ways to win, by being together, keeping the discipline. We just hung on in there as long as we could and the Barcelona game was a clear example of that, as was the final against Bayern.
We had the strength to overcome the difficulties and to find a way to win and this is what you need. No matter what the circumstances are, no matter what the difficulties are, no matter how good the opponent is, this team wins. And in those competitions we went back to being a winning team from the experience we had in the past, and that has carried through.Winning the FA Cup was important ahead of the Champions League final, because we then had confidence that we could win trophies no matter how strange the season is or how bad everything went. This club has this DNA of finding the ways to deal with difficulties.We’ve seen that this season. It started really great with the Super Cup and then the Club World Cup, and then we were really unlucky in the other finals, but we know the circumstances around the ownership, the Covid issues in December, and we are still there in the Champions League for the next season. We have now completed the whole set of trophies to be won in our history. We will definitely look back at this season as one of the special ones for many reasons.
Bertrand block for Bayern
One big tactical change we made for the 2012 Champions League final was for Ryan Bertrand to be given his debut in the competition playing in midfield in front of Ashley Cole. It surprised people because Ryan was also a left-back but Bayern Munich had Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery flying down the wings all that season, murdering other teams, and on their right Robben with Philipp Lahm behind him were particularly effective attacking.
So our coaches thought that to use Ashley Cole to attack down that side could be dangerous for us. Maybe we would not be able to use him at all to attack but you don't want to do that because Ashley was great coming forward from there, so they thought okay, if we put Ryan Bertrand there in front of him, Ryan is good at going forward and crossing the ball and then if Ashley overlaps, Ryan can just drop back and you still have a proper defender at left-back.That was the thinking, just to double up there and make it more difficult for Bayern where they had been really lethal from that side. It was game intelligence and they found a way to deal with the threat as best as possible, and in the end we won the Champions League, 10 years ago today.