After 6 clean sheets in our opening 10 games this season, Petr Cech has spent more time in the back of his net than ever before, which validates him praising new boss Rafa Benitez’s introduction this week.
20 goals had been shipped prior to the Manchester City match, in just 10 games; not quite the form you can keep up if you want to win games at this level.
However, against Manchester City, we looked much more sure and calm at the back, even without the influencial John Terry, which limited them to very little clear-cut chances. Fair enough, we didn’t create many ourselves, but do we want to be embroiled in 5-4 thrillers if we lose them? Or would be rather master the basics, and try and grind out those 1-0 wins.
Lets be realistic, if it was anyone other than Rafa in charge, we’d have been happy with Sunday’s clean sheet. Had it been a 4-4 draw, we would be conceding too many.
The big question is, regardless of the manager, what would we actually prefer? Personally, with the misfiring Fernando Torres, and Eden Hazard not recreating his early season form just yet, I think we have to watch out at the back first, especially until John Terry is back, and until January, when Roman will no doubt dip into the coffers to sign a striker.
Benitez conceded just 0.88 goals per game at Liverpool, a great record, whereas Di Matteo was averaging 1.17 per game, and AVB at 1.15 during his spell here. You also have to argue that Benitex’s Liverpool were a worse side than ours while he was in charge, despite matching our Champions League glory.
In Petr Cech we have one of the best goalkeepers around, and once John Terry is back, we can start thinking about a consistent defence, and worrying less about that end of the pitch. If you look back, we haven’t fielded the same back four in consecutive games, since the 2-1 and 4-1 victories over Arsenal and Norwich respectively, mostly down to Terry’s absence, although Cole, Luiz, and Cahill have also missed games since then, leaving us shipping goals like nobody’s business.
Our 4-2-3-1 formation focuses heavily on attack, and it is plain to see, early on in the season, that it was taking teams apart, but once the front end starts to wobble, you get results like the 3-0 loss at Juventus, and the 2-1 defeat to the Baggies just days before.
Benitez has a big test come Wednesday, as Fulham have had 28 goals fly in during their 7 games so far away from home, so don’t expect a repeat of the 0-0 we saw against City. Benitez could go along way to proving himself with a victory there, calming his back line, and using the attacking prowess of Hazard and co, to chip them down, and come out with a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline.
Stoke did it perfectly on the weekend, Jol’s Fulham had drawn 3-3 in their previous two away from home, and a typically defensive display, to edge the game 1-0, meaning they have now just conceded once in their 6 home games so far.
Yes, I understand that we aren’t Stoke City, but until we are confident in Torres scoring up the opposition end, or have John Terry back to marshal the defence, we must focus on keeping Cech’s hands clean.
Goals are extremely exciting to watch, but not if they fly in at our end.
By Brad Smith