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Petr Cech applauds Rafa Benitez changes

Matt Barlow: Cech closes in on his 400th Chelsea game… and here's where I rate him among the Premier League's finest

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UPDATED:

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

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.

David Luiz has moved into midfield

Branislav Ivanovic

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 since his appointment

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

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

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.

Australian Open 2012: Novak Djokovic beats Paolo Lorenzi

Djokovic back with a bang as world No 1 blows away Lorenzi

Novak Djokovic made a fine return to
the tournament that began the best year of his career 12 months ago with
a commanding 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 victory over Italian Paolo Lorenzi at the
Australian Open on Tuesday.

'It's great to be back here in Melbourne where I have the nicest memories of my tennis experience,' Djokovic said.

Focused: Novak Djokovic wrapped up victory in 90 minutes

Focused: Novak Djokovic wrapped up victory in 90 minutes

'This is the grand slam I've won twice, I always play well here.'

Djokovic came into the tournament following a holiday and without an official match under his belt in 2012, but there was little evidence of rustiness.

'I wanted to have that period of preparation to really get ready for the Australian Open,' he added.

'Physically I think I'm stronger, I'm improving things by small margins. It's something that gives me a lot of confidence.'

Lorenzi tested the world No 1 as best he could, but Djokovic was certainly up for the challenge.

Resolute: Paolo Lorenzi never gave in

Resolute: Paolo Lorenzi never gave in

He did suffer the occasional lapse in concentration, notably in the third game of the opening set when a double fault and a low volley into the net gifted Lorenzi the first break of the match.

However, Djokovic is nothing if not a perfectionist and tightened his game to break the Italian three times on his way to claiming the first set.

A lengthy and powerful duel in the opening game of the second set left the crowd anticipating a baseline battle for dominance, and while Djokovic was stretched, it was never too far as he swept through the set 6-0, winning it with a perfect forehand down the line.

Lorenzi never gave in, but found no answers to Djokovic's commanding arsenal or silky drop shots, powerful baseline play and skilfully placed volleys.

With the temperature hovering around 35 degrees on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic was no doubt happy to wrap the match up in just over 90 minutes.

Arsenal 1 QPR 0: Robin van Persie misses out on record

Arsenal 1 QPR 0: Dutch of class settles it as Van”s the man for the Gunners again

Robin van Persie may have been thwarted in his hunt for a Premier League goalscoring record but was on hand to help Arsenal end 2011 with victory against QPR today.

The Gunners captain had 90 minutes to net twice against the Rs to equal Alan Shearer”s record of Premier League goals in a calendar year.

Having wasted four decent chances in the first period, van Persie swept home his first opportunity of the second half after latching onto Andrey Arshavin”s neat ball.

Dutch of class: Robin van Persie once again proved the difference for Arsenal

Dutch of class: Robin van Persie once again proved the difference for Arsenal

Dutch of class: Robin van Persie once again proved the difference for Arsenal

Dutch of class: Robin van Persie once again proved the difference for Arsenal

MATCH FACTS

Arsenal: Szczesny, Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen (Coquelin 54), Song, Arteta, Walcott (Gervinho 74), Ramsey, Arshavin (Rosicky 67), Van Persie. Subs not used: Almunia, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamakh, Benayoun.

Goals: Van Persie 60

Booked: Vermaelen, Djourou

QPR: Cerny, Young, Connolly, Gabbidon, Traore (Orr 77), Faurlin, Barton, Mackie (Smith 74), Taarabt, Wright-Phillips, Bothroyd (Campbell 64). Subs not used: Murphy, Hill, Derry, Helguson.

Booked: Young, Barton

Referee: Martin Atkinson.

However, the Holland international failed to add to his 60th minute effort and missed the chance to equal the former Blackburn striker”s 36-goal haul from 1995.

Van Persie was not the only Arsenal player left ruing missed opportunities, with Theo Walcott and substituteGervinho both guilty of failing to convert gilt-edged chances.

The Gunners” futility led to a nervy ending against spirited QPR, although resolute defending saw the majority of the 60,067 crowd go home happy.

Before kick-off Arsenal legend Tony Adams was given a standing ovation on the Emirates pitch. The former captain”s appearance failed to boost today”s side, though, with QPR dominating the opening exchanges.

After Per Mertesacker thwarted an Adel Taarabt through ball, ex-Arsenal striker Jay Bothroyd soon found space to get away a 20-yard effort on goal in the ninth minute.

That

That”s for you boss: After last week”s frustration, Arsene Wenger was delighted with his captain

Wojciech Szczesny held with ease but looked less comfortable when an exquisite Taarabt pass put Shaun Wright-Phillips behind the Gunners” backline a minute later, forcing thePolish goalkeeper into a quick block.

QPR were playing with confidence in north London, although a moment of van Persie magic could have easily seen the home side break the deadlock.

The Arsenal skipper jinked back and forth on the right-hand side, before sneaking past his marker and toe-poking an effort on goal from close range, but without success.

Not quite yet: Van Persie did have a host of other opportunities to get the record

Not quite yet: Van Persie did have a host of other opportunities to get the record

Former Tottenham playmaker Taarabt was fortunate to escape punishment from referee Martin Atkinson in the 19th minute when he seemingly caught Arshavin with a stray arm.

Joey Barton fired a shot across the face of goal with the Russia international still grounded, before van Persie twice came close at the other end.

Getting to grips: Theo Walcott struggled to make much impact on the game

Getting to grips: Theo Walcott struggled to make much impact on the game

The Dutch striker first backtracked furiously to head just wide, before wriggling past Luke Young in the boxand lifting the ball just over the bar.

The Gunners were in the ascendancy and van Persie fired just over the bar after being put through by a long ball from the back.

Arsenal twice had penalty shouts rejected as half-time approached, before a goalbound Aaron Ramsey effortwas cleared off the line by Barton and Cerny parried a fierce Mikel Arteta drive.

Fighting fire with fire: Arsenal showed plenty of fighting spirit in the face of firm opposition

Fighting fire with fire: Arsenal showed plenty of fighting spirit in the face of firm opposition

QPR looked rejuvenated after the break and Jamie Mackie found the net within two minutes, although the whistle had already been blown for offside.

Armand Traore”s dangerous left-wing cross caught Arsenal off guard five minutes later, but Alejandro Faurlin”s miscued shot allowed Szczesny to gather comfortably.

Head boy: The Gunners even posed a threat from set-pieces, with Per Mertesacker doing well

Head boy: The Gunners even posed a threat from set-pieces, with Per Mertesacker doing well

Wenger”s side were looking most dangerous on the break and Walcott should have scored the afternoon”s opening goal in the 56th minute.

Ramsey put the former Southampton manthrough one on one with Cerny and, despite the goalkeeper diving the wrong way, Walcott somehow pulled his shot wide.

Star quality: Thierry Henry was in the stands, and the fans gave him a heroes welcome

Star quality: Thierry Henry was in the stands, and the fans gave him a heroes welcome

Star quality: Thierry Henry was in the stands, and the fans gave him a heroes welcome

Fortunately that lack of composure did not haunt the Gunners, who broke the deadlock through van Persie four minutes later.

Arshavin found time and space on the left flank to find the Arsenal skipper, who swept a left-footed drive past Cerny inside the box.

Captain Fantastic: Gunners legend Tony Adams was also in attendance as he visited the statue made his honour

Captain Fantastic: Gunners legend Tony Adams was also in attendance as he visited the statue made his honour

Young”s block stopped Arshavin doubling the north Londoners” advantage, before Taarabt forced Szczesny into a low save to prevent a curling effort finding the net.

The shot began a bright spell for thewest Londoners, who saw Connolly blaze over and felt aggrieved not to receive a penalty when Taarabt went down under substitute Francis Coquelin”s challenge.

On Song: Other results across the country made it all the more important for Arsenal to fight for the points

On Song: Other results across the country made it all the more important for Arsenal to fight for the points

Arsenal, having seen a rasping Ramsey effort come close, were close again through Gervinho.

The indomitable van Persie showed strength and skill to lose his marker and cross for the Ivory Coast international, who somehow put wide from close range.

Arsenal continued to press for a second as the game drew to a close but were thwarted, with Ramsey and van Persie both unable to find the net.