Sunday, May 6, 2012
Cech's Save - What You Can Learn From It
Cech's save will go down in FA Cup Final lore with Jimmy Montgomery's superb double save for Sunderland in the 1973 Final (still my personal favorite save), but it's different from Monty's or the Gordon Banks save in Mexico, another one it's been compared to. As you can see from the picture, Cech didn't have to cover a great deal of ground to reach the ball. The challenge came from having so little time to react. Carroll's header, from close range, was powerful, and though it wasn't across the line, it was behind Petr's body. So in addition to lightning reflexes, it took strength to claw the ball back to safety. Complicating the matter further was Branislav Ivanovic hurling himself across his keeper's line of sight. The defender was just doing his best to block Carroll's header, but his flying body and raised boot couldn't have made life easy for his keeper. But Cech wasn't distracted. He kept his focus on the ball and was able to react.
The keeper's footwork to get across the line as Luis Suarez crossed was also exemplary, as was his posture and body position when Carroll thumped his header. It's easy, in that situation, to have your weight on your heels (as, perhaps, Cech may have for Carroll's 64th-minute goal), but the towering keeper stayed upright and balanced, with his hands raised and ready to react.
Finally - and most importantly - you can't underestimate Cech's competitiveness. Half the stadium was already leaping to their feet to celebrate a goal - and indeed, Carroll did run off in celebration - but the goalkeeper simply refused to be beaten. Gordon Banks denied Pele in Mexico with graceful, feline athleticism, while Montgomery's explosive spring thwarted Leeds. Cech simply fought the ball out of the net. Competitiveness, desperation, will. Call it what you like. It's as important to a keeper as a safe pair of hands.
There is an othodoxy which states that Cech has never been the same since his head injury. I've never agreed with that. He's had very good seasons since then, as well as a couple of indifferent ones. Much of his league campaign this season fell into the latter category. He got caught cheating and leaning several times, not least during the 5-3 home thrashing by Arsenal. But he was the difference over two legs against Barcelona (themselves not helped at all by erratic displays from Victor Valdes) and more than did his part to win the FA Cup Final. In this form, who's to say he won't be lifting the Champions League trophy in a few weeks times?