Petr Cech saved our skins: most often used phrase of the season?
When Petr Cech arrived from Rennes to grace our presence as a Blue, he immediately impressed. He was young, he was fantastic. In his first season in 2004-05, he kept 25 clean sheets and didn't concede a goal for 1,025 minutes, a record that held for five years. The next season, he only conceded 22 goals which helped us achieve our second Premier League title.
Then came S***** H*** and the head injury. The rugby helmet. Several more injuries over the 2007-08 season. People complaining that he wasn't the same Petr Cech. The biggest criticism was his indecision on crosses into the box, and I also kept hearing that he apparently couldn't save penalties (but I have seen him save plenty over the past few seasons).
Despite the criticism, our Number 1 managed to keep a number of clean sheets at the start of the 2008-09 season before we started our now-annual stutter in form, conceding mostly from set pieces and putting focus on Cech's ability to cover crosses once again. We won the double last season, but our skittishness on set pieces continued. He ended 2009-10 on a massive high, however, when he saved Kevin Prince Boateng's penalty in the FA Cup final.
Fingertip save against Arshavin in the 2-0 win over Arsenal
Is he back to his best this season? I like to think so. He is alert, aware, quick, everything you want your goalkeeper to be - especially when the rest of the team isn't functioning all too well. Even when you think back to some of our wins at the start of the season, where we seemed to be cruising to victory and keeping clean sheets, Cech was making spectacular saves to keep those clean sheets. He was finally caught out by an impressive chip from Scott Parker, conceding our first goal of the season. But he has continued making brilliant saves in matches, saving our skins on a number of occasions to preserve a win, salvage a draw, prevent a loss, or prevent a more embarrassing loss. Our ineptness at set pieces doesn't seem to be as much of a trait of our team this year. We're conceding more goals from open play - from losing the ball in midfield and from ridiculous defensive mistakes. He's also an asset for a quick counter attack - his long throws and clearances have more than once led to goals.
He's my player of the season so far. He took responsibility for the goal we conceded against Liverpool, but you can't blame him for many of the other goals that we've let through the posts this season. And, just when I think we're really sinking to the depths against Fulham the other night, he pulls off another fantastic penalty save to at least let us escape with a point.
The big Czech is part of the spine of our team, and it's great to see him performing so well and at least being one bright part of our pretty miserable dip in form this season. Things could be much, much worse without Petr Cech.