Petr Cech’s move to Arsenal is expected to be announced on Monday. It will end Cech’s tenure at Chelsea, a period spanning a decade. He has been involved in every success of the Abramovich era, including four Premier Leagues, four FA Cups and one Champions League.
Throughout his time at the club, Cech has been a quite leader, and the anchor of Chelsea’s defence. Even when Thibaut Courtois displaced him last August, he remained dedicated to the team. Cech never complained, never spread rumors in the press. He accepted his place as the number two keeper, and went about business.
Cech first came to the club in the summer of 2004, on a £7 million move from Rennes. Although Jose Mourinho had just started his first stint at the club, Mourinho’s predecessor Claudio Ranieri was the one who secured the Czech’s arrival.
Right off the bat, Cech had to fight for his spot, much like Courtois did. Carlo Cudicini had been the number one for several seasons, and it was only a pre-season elbow injury that kept him from starting the season in goal.
Cech pounced on the opportunity, however. In the first game of the season, a home match against Manchester United, Cech kept a clean sheet. He never looked back, setting the record for clean sheets kept in a Premier League season (25), as well as most time spent without conceding (1,025 minutes, or 85 days). He conceded 13 goals in 35 games
Petr kept a clean sheet again (his 24th) on April 30th, the day Chelsea became champions. It was a perfect bookend to the season. The Premier League rewarded Cech for his magnificent season with the Golden Glove.
Cech played a crucial role in Chelsea’s title defence the next season. He shut United out again, this time on April 29th, as Chelsea clinched the league with a 3-0 victory. Petr allowed just 20 goals in 34 games.
He looked set to have yet another stellar campaign in goal, before October 14th, 2006. It was a game at Reading. The game kicked off, started normally, and Reading sent the ball towards Cech. He ran out of goal, sliding to get it, and Stephen Hunt ran by, jumping over Cech to avoid an early clash.
Hunt wasn’t completely successful, however. He left one leg down, hitting Cech in the head. Cech stayed down, and less than a minute into the game, was taken off. Doctors would later say that the injury nearly cost Petr his life.
Mourinho would later say that Hunt’s challenge was clumsy, and insinuated that he was intending to injure Cech. Hunt claimed that although he was challenging for the ball, he was not purposely trying to harm Cech. In any case, the damage was done.
Cech was kept on the sidelines for three months. He returned in time to help Chelsea win their second League Cup. Cech then failed to concede for a remarkable 810 minutes, a run that included eight straight clean sheets. He also won his first, and only, Premier League Player of the Month award, for the eight clean sheets.
Petr then helped Chelsea to a cup double, beating United 1-0 in the FA Cup Final.
He spent much of 2007-08 injured, a year that did not treat Chelsea well. Mourinho left in September after clashes with Abramovich over style of play. The Blues failed to win any trophies, losing in both the League Cup and Champions League finals.
Cech returned for the Champions League final, which went to penalties. Cech saved Ronaldo’s penalty, in the third slot, giving Chelsea the advantage. However, John Terry’s infamous miss leveled the game, and Nicholas Anelka missed to give United the silverware.
The 2008-09 year wasn’t a good one for Chelsea either. Although they won an FA Cup, no small thanks to Cech’s fine performances, the Blues finished third in the Premier League, and went out of the Champions League in bitter fashion.
Carlo Ancelotti was given the manager’s job in the summer, and the following season saw Chelsea return to Premier League dominance. The Blues won the title in convincing fashion, scoring a record 103 goals. Cech conceded 32, second lowest in the league.
His performance in the FA Cup that season was vital to Chelsea’s success in completing the double. In the final, he saved a Kevin Prince-Boateng penalty, which would have given Portsmouth the lead in the 54th minute. Didier Drogba scored the only goal just four minutes later.
Cech’s crowning performances came in 2011-12. He conceded just five goals in Chelsea’s FA Cup run, including three clean sheets.
Petr saved the final for Chelsea. They had taken a 2-0 lead, but after Liverpool brought Andy Carroll on, the Reds began a strong comeback. Carroll scored in the 62nd minute, and nearly scored in the 81st.
Carroll headed a cross towards goal from 6 yards out, and the ball looked to have crossed the line. But Cech then flew out of nowhere, clawing the ball back from the abyss and into play. Replays later showed that Phil Dowd’s decision was right: the ball never fully crossed the line.
The Champions League semi-finals also brought Cech glory. In the first, at home facing Barcelona, he kept a clean sheet, despite Barcelona’s 70% possession, and 15 shots on target.
His performance in the second leg was even better. After John Terry was sent off, Ashley Cole and Cech rallied the inexperienced and out of shape backline. Even though Barcelona scored two goals quickly after Terry’s removal, the Blues shut the game down in the second half.
Barcelona kept 72% of the ball, and had a whopping 22 shots on goal. Still, Cech kept the Catalans from scoring the decisive goal. Even Messi failed to beat Cech, missing a penalty which would have given Barcelona the lead.
Cech continued his heroics in the final, against Bayern Munich. Although the undisputed hero of that game was Didier Drogba, Cech’s performance cannot be undervalued. He let just one of Munich’s 21 shots on goal go in.
In extra time, after Drogba brought Frank Ribery down in the box, Cech saved Arjen Robben’s penalty. Had Robben scored, there was little chance the Blues were coming back.
Then, in penalties, Cech pulled Chelsea back on even terms, saving Ivica Olic’s penalty to even the score at 3-3. He guessed the right way on Bastian Schweinsteiger’s penalty, forcing the German to push the penalty even further right, and onto the post.
Cech was voted Man of the Match by the fans, finally receiving the attention that he had long deserved.
Petr’s amazing length made him a formidable keeper, particularly because he could cover so much of the frame. He rarely came out far. When he did, Cech timed it just right, rarely allowing an opponent to round him, and almost never conceding a penalty.
Cech had a perfect mix of finesse and physicality. Although Courtois is much better in the air, Cech was no slouch in dealing with crosses and corners. He also had the technical ability to shut down players like Messi and Ronaldo.
Most amazingly, Cech never hesitated to dive at a players feet. You would think that a player who nearly lost his life from a challenge would be very careful. But Cech was also snatching balls away from opponents, in the thick of a crowd in the penalty area.
As Cech leaves the club, fans need to put aside the future, and salute the past. He was a mainstay at Stamford Bridge during many a storm year. It’s time to give a round of applause to Cech.[interaction id=”5590f9e617ada36c536736e5"] [s[separator type=”thin”]p>
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Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad
Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.
Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…
David Silva showed his class
The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.
If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.
He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.
It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.
They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.
Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions
Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.
They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.
On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.
The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.
Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.
He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.
Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.
He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.
Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.
Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea: Three talking points from Old Trafford
Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Manchester United overcame top four rivals Chelsea at Old Trafford on Super Sunday.
Goals from Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard helped Manchester United record a crucial victory over Premier League top-four rivals Chelsea.
In-form Willian had fired the visitors in front on 32 minutes before Lukaku restored parity shortly afterwards.
Both sides looked capable of snatching all three points, but it was substitute Lingard who had the decisive say when he nodded in Lukaku’s cross.
Alvaro Morata thought he had equalised for Chelsea late on but it was erroneously ruled out for offside, denying the Blues what, on balance, would have been a deserved point.
Here are three talking points as United reclaimed second spot and moved six points clear of Chelsea.
Lukaku makes a statement at long last
He was at the centre of a tug-of-war between United and Chelsea last summer before eventually joining the Red Devils to be reunited with Jose Mourinho, with whom he had worked at Stamford Bridge.
It is fair to say the Belgian’s not entirely justified the huge transfer fee, but this performance suggests the tide could be turning.
His goal, which settled United after a shaky start, was the first he had scored against a top-eight club this season and it could not have been more timely.
Emboldened by his strike, the 24-year-old looked back to his menacing best and, although Thibaut Courtois denied him a second of the afternoon, the Belgian played a key role in United’s winner.
His chipped ball to Lingard was inch-perfect, handing the England man an opportunity he couldn’t refuse to put the hosts in control.
This wasn’t a vintage United performance by any stretch, but it bore all the hallmarks of a Mourinho team.
Chelsea’s top-four hopes suffer a blow
It has not been an easy period for Chelsea boss Conte, who had to face questions about his own future following shock defeats to Bournemouth and Watford.
He answered his critics to some degree as the Blues held mighty Barcelona to a draw in the Champions League in midweek.
This was another improved display from his charges, with no suggestion that they are not playing for their manager.
Willian’s goal was well deserved but their lead lasted only seven minutes.
Chelsea can feel aggrieved that Morata, who had earlier hit the woodwork, had a late effort ruled out for offside when he appeared to be level.
Nevertheless, the Blues now sit in fifth place, two points behind Tottenham Hotspur who saw off Crystal Palace earlier in the day.
There are still 30 points to play so all is not lost for Chelsea, despite this setback.
But with competition so fierce, Conte knows his side face an uphill climb to finish in a Champions League spot.
Super-sub Lingard presses his case
While Lukaku had struggled to have an impact in the crunch games, the same cannot be said about Lingard.
He was in sparkling form earlier this season, scoring six goals in a nine-match spell over the festive period.
Although that form tailed off to an extent, the 25-year-old reminded Mourinho of his ability to make something happen.
Ten minutes after coming on for Anthony Martial, Lingard was at the centre of the celebrations when he converted Lukaku’s cross.
Despite having a peripheral role at times, this was his 13th goal in all competitions for United this season.
England boss Gareth Southgate is a known admirer of Lingard’s and, with World Cup selection on the horizon, the United academy product will be hoping to get as much game-time as possible in order to book his place on the plane to Russia.
After this telling cameo against Chelsea, Mourinho may have a hard time leaving him out of the starting XI.
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