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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Chelsea's season is in the sweaty hands of one man and he doesn't look entirely happy about it. If the Londoners are to have any hope of burying their second place curse, they need Petr Cech back to his best before this evening's FA Cup semi-final clash with Arsenal kicks off. Another disastrous performance between the sticks and Guus Hiddink will surely be forced into drastic action.

Last season, Chelsea were runners-up in the Premier League, the Champions League and the League Cup, with midfielder Michael Ballack going on to scoop a unique quadruple by picking up a European Championship runners-up medal as well. With the tactical versatility of Hiddink now proven in England, the Blues are more than capable of going one better in at least one competition, but not if their goalkeeper continues to suffer this very public crisis of competence.

There was an interesting difference of opinions at Stamford Bridge after Tuesday night's astonishing 4-4 draw with Liverpool. While I was sat in front of Guus Hiddink, hearing him admit that his goalkeeper was short on confidence, Cech himself was out in the mixed zone telling reporters that it, "was not really a bad, bad game," and that his confidence was absolutely fine. I bet that made for an interesting conversation at training the next day.

At the risk of shattering Cech's self-belief, his performance against Liverpool was so sub-standard that, 'bad, bad game," doesn't begin to cover it. You might have to add another three 'bads' before you even get close. Never mind the goals and the manner in which they were conceded, it was his all-round performance that was the most shocking. He came out for balls that he had no chance of getting. He flapped at crosses that he should have been certain to claim. He ran into team-mates, grew hesitant and uncertain, and never seemed to raise his voice to assert some control.

A football team relies on its goalkeeper far more than their transfer value or public profile might suggest. Frank Lampard or Didier Drogba may command the big bucks, but if they have a bad day, Chelsea just become a slightly less potent force. When Cech drops a clanger, it can cost a match and, at this time of the year, it could cost Chelsea their entire season. The defenders will look to their goalkeeper for confidence and belief, to know that anything going over their heads is his responsibility. Uncertainty breeds uncertainty.

There is no guarantee that Hiddink will even select Cech for this match, though you would expect the Dutchman to defend him for a while longer. With Carlo Cudicini now warming Tottenham's bench, Hilario is the only back-up and he's not quite the standard you'd want when you're facing a revitalised Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie.

Chelsea don't have a crisis on their hands just yet, but when that first Arsenal cross swirls in over Cech's head, every Blues fan will hold their breath. Never mind the FA Cup semi-final, their goalkeeper now has the entire season in his hands.


1, Who is Arsene Wenger going to play at left-back? Gael Clichy is still out, the impressive Kieran Gibbs has twanged his groin and there's very little left in the cupboard. Wenger could be forced to put Bacary Sagna on his weaker side, or even to push Mikael Silvestre back out to a position he hasn't played at for years. Salomon Kalou will be eagerly awaiting the decision.

2, How long will Nicolas Anelka hold his tongue? Benched for the Bolton match last weekend, his mood won't have improved when he discovered he was out of the side against Liverpool as well. Chelsea are looking better with Didier Drogba as a lone frontman and Anelka hates playing off the flanks. If he's not in the starting line-up tonight, surely it's only a matter of time before he starts moaning to the press?

3, Will Arsenal go for 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 at Wembley? Will Wenger risk being outnumbered in the centre of the pitch or will he match Chelsea and put three men in the middle with one of them, Cesc Fabregas, pushing up to support Emmanuel Adebayor? Andreiy Arshavin on the left or Samir Nasri? Arsenal now have so many fit frontmen that Wenger has to make some very difficult decisions!

4, Will Frank Lampard make a point about his omission from PFA Player Of The Year shortlist? Further proof that most footballers know nothing about football was delivered this week when Lampard was left off the voting slip in favour of a goalkeeper who has hardly had to make a save, a bit-part midfielder and sulky Portuguese winger playing well within himself. How many goals does Lampard need to score?

5, Can Lukasz Fabianski teach Petr Cech a few lessons in composure? The young Polish stopper has justified his manager's faith in him this month with a string of impressive performances. We always knew that he was a decent enough shot-stopper, but it's his awareness and movement that has raised eyebrows. On three occasions against Villarreal, he came sprinting off his line to clear long balls into the stands. Cech could do with some of that confidence.