There’s only one story that will be talked about when Liverpool travel to Chelsea on Sunday. Whoever has been brought in to replace the Keys/Gray axis of inanity will tell us every little detail about Fernando Torres. And in case that’s not enough, the accompanying slow motion montages sound-tracked by something ominous sounding from the Beethoven back-catalogue will remind you of the drama associated with the treachery/logical move[delete as appropriate to your point of view]. Just how Torres uses his ‘inside knowledge’ to exploit his former employers is the main attraction. If that ‘inside information’ amounts to Liverpool not having a great defence, then we’re all privy to it.
But there is another match up of more interest. Granted it’s a clash that barring a 22 man brawl or run upfield for a last minute corner, will have the belligerents about 90 yards apart throughout for much of the match. The battle between Petr Cech and Pepe Reina is crucial to the result of this match. It’s two of the world’s best goalkeepers going head to head and without jumping to conclusions about a result, they’ll be kept busy. For the goalkeeping enthusiast, it’s a mouth-watering prospect.
Petr Cech has been reborn this season – a born again custodian. He is arguably playing the best football of his life. There’s a confidence and assertiveness to his game that had regularly been marked absent for the last few years. When you’ve got the technical ability and natural talent of Cech, it’s still possible to preform to a high level without the spirit, but with it he is truly exceptional. Chelsea’s slump may tarnish his reputation to the casual observer, but scratch the surface and he has been superb throughout and without his excellent form, the slump may have started a lot sooner than it did and the Blues would have secured the title of crisis club long before Liverpool took an iron grip on it. His shot-stopping has always been excellent, but this season his confidence under the high ball has returned. He has been nothing short of brilliant.
Cech’s story this season is strangely similar to that of Pepe Reina. The form of the outfield players in front of him hasn’t done much for the aesthetics of his statistics, but beyond the numbers he has been playing very well and made some crucial saves that have directly impacted the points haul of his team. In wins against Bolton, Fulham and even the seemingly facile 3-0 win away to Wolves, the Spaniard came up with crucial saves to smooth the path to all three points for Liverpool. It’s these small margins that make all the difference and by ensuring his team claimed all three points rather than settling for one or possibly none, he has ensured the team are watching the relegation battle from a relatively comfortable distance rather than being at the centre of it. ‘He’s not playing as well as he can’ is one point often mentioned when I start singing his praises. I completely agree. He’s not, but such is his talent that even operating at 85 or 90% of his actual ability he is still one of the world’s best. This season has seen him make some mistakes, but overall his impact on the team is a huge positive for the Reds.
Torres may be the one grabbing the headlines, but the performance of the two goalkeepers will have a big barring on the how the story unfolds.