Matt Barlow: Cech closes in on his 400th Chelsea game… and here's where I rate him among the Premier League's finest
11:25 GMT, 28 December 2012
Petr Cech has applauded Rafa Benitez’s tactical changes which have helped restore Chelsea’s traditional strengths of organisation and defensive solidity.
Cech has conceded eight goals in 10 games under Benitez, although three of them came inside half an hour of disarray at West Ham.
Overall, Chelsea have been more compact since last month’s managerial change and the players seem happier with the return to a system upon which they built so much of their recent success.
Scroll down for Matt's top 10 non-British keepers in Premier League history…
Resolute: Petr Cech has applauded Rafa Benitez's tactical change which has seen a return to Chelsea's traditional strengths of defensive solidity and organisation
‘We look better organised, I think that is the difference,’ said Cech, who kept his 187th clean sheet in 399 games for the club at Norwich on Boxing Day.
‘We were very open and suddenly we are defending much better. I think that is the key because we were not defending well as a team.
‘We were conceding too many goals and now we are back to our ways where we are difficult to score against and that’s a big help.’
Benitez has made changes of personnel, using Branislav Ivanovic primarily as a centre half and shifting David Luiz into midfield.
Personnel: Benitez has moved David Luiz (left) further forward into midfield, while Branislav Ivanovic (right) has moved infield from his usual right back birth to play alongside Gary Cahill in the middle
The interim manager has also used Victor Moses more often, adding more power and industry to the forward department.
‘He came to us with slightly different ideas of what we were doing on the pitch and so far it has been working,’ said Cech. ‘Let’s hope this will continue.
Changes: Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez (right) has picked up 11 points out of a possible 18
‘What has improved is that we are pressing the ball much better so it gives us the time to re-organise.’
The decision to move Luiz forward into a defensive midfield role has been well received.
‘He is very good on the ball and, as he is originally a central defender, he defends the space and he can be a shield to the back four,’ Cech said.
‘When he gets the ball he is very creative. I don’t know if he’ll stay there long term. That’s a question for the manager.’
Cech will play his 400th game for Chelsea at Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday, which promises to be the first big test for the improvements made by Benitez since the Club World Cup in Japan earlier this month.
‘We need a run of wins to close the gap to Manchester United and Manchester City,’ said the 30-year-old Czech.
‘Three points at Everton would be a big win.’
Benitez is also aiming to keep John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses until after cup ties against Southampton and Swansea before releasing them for the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
Mikel and Moses, integral players since Benitez took control, are in the Nigeria squad which was due to report for a pre-tournament training camp in Portugal yesterday.
The Chelsea pair were given permission to stay in London until the New Year but Benitez is negotiating to keep them for as long as possible as his team are faced with a cluttered fixture list.
Chelsea launch their defence of the FA Cup at Southampton on January 5, four days before the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at home to Swansea.
Benitez accepts he is unlikely to have Mikel and Moses around by the time they play Stoke in the Premier League on January 12.
Wall: The clean sheet against Norwich was Cech's 187th in 399 games for Chelsea
‘The tournament starts on the 19th, so they will go one or two weeks before,’ said Benitez. ‘Maybe we can manage to keep them a bit longer.
'They know sometimes the players do not need to go early.’
Nigeria’s first game of the tournament is on January 21 against Burkina Faso. The final is on February 10.
Chelsea have played 31 games already this season and could be close to 70 by the end of the season, depending on their progress in the cup competitions.
Steel and industry: Victor Moses (blue) has seen increased time under Benitez, adding work rate and a physical presence to the Chelsea frontline
Meanwhile, the club are likely to come under fire from eco-warriors after they chartered a flight from Norwich on Boxing Day.
The journey by road can take three hours but Benitez and his men would not have been in the air for any longer than 25 minutes.
The team boarded a BMI Embraer jet after their 1-0 win at Carrow Road, touching down in London Gatwick at 7.30pm. Arsenal also flew to Norwich for their game there in October.
Sources close to Chelsea defended the flight, citing tiredness after their recent trip to Japan.
Additional reporting: Laure James
THE 10 GREATEST NON-BRITISH GOALKEEPERS IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE:
1. Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United, Manchester City, Aston Villa): For his sheer presence, personality and his contribution to Manchester United’s domination.
2. Edwin van der Sar (Fulham, Manchester United): Solved Fergie’s post-Schmeichel dilemma and one of the architects of the modern sweeper-keeper style.
3. Petr Cech (Chelsea):
Hero of Chelsea’s finest hour in Munich and one of the pillars of the
club’s success, all achieved despite fracturing his skull six years ago.
4. Brad Friedel (Liverpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa, Tottenham): Matured into a Premier League legend who went eight years without missing a PL game.
5. Bruce Grobelaar (Liverpool, Southampton): Hard to imagine him in the era of the GK giants but brilliant, acrobatic and entertaining.
6. Jens Lehmann (Arsenal): Mad as a hatter and won’t get Manuel Almunia’s vote but an inspiration for Arsenal in the Invincibles era.
7. Pepe Reina (Liverpool): Another very modern keeper, athletic and good with his feet, who made an exceptional start to life at Liverpool.
8. Shay Given (Blackburn, Swindon, Sunderland, Newcastle, Manchester City, Aston Villa): No-one better when it came to reaction saves from close range.
9. Mark Schwarzer (Bradford, Middlesbrough, Fulham): Sixteen years and counting in English football, the Aussie is one who got better with age.
10. Kasey Keller (Millwall, Leicester, Spurs, Southampton, Fulham): At the vanguard of the American movement featuring Friedel, Howard, Hahnemann, etc.