It’s early on, in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final, when Liverpool have a free-kick, thirty five yards out from the Chelsea goal.
As Fabio Aurelio lines up to take the kick, Petr Cech drifts off his line, ready to come for a high ball into the crowded box. Instead Aurelio notices the growing gap that Cech has left by his post, and drills a deft left-footer, past him from distance.
It’s a big blow to Cech’s confidence, as he then struggles throughout the game. His lack of confidence, seems to impact upon his defence. Chelsea leak another four goals But survive.
Many of the TV pundits come to the conclusion that Cech will never be the same again. That the bad head injury he sustained against Reading a few years ago, has caused him to ultimately, lose his bottle. A critical currency in any good keepers tool-kit.
But this may not be true. Yes, Cech has conceded some soft goals, that maybe he wouldn’t have done before his injury. But for him to still be playing after a serious head injury, says that he still has the requisite ‘bottle’. It may be more likely, that subtle and persistent doubts have emerged in his mind, about his ability to handle high balls and crosses into his box.
These doubts lead to indecision, and uncertainty. Should I come or not? Opponents sense weakness and play on it. Once a keeper doubts himself, his defence become jittery. And so compounding the keeper’s doubts. Then, a keeper can start to question and doubt their own ability. Which will prove their undoing. But for Cech, this can be resolved.
By focusing on the specific process, of coming for crosses, he can practise each step, slowly and deliberately in his mind. Each trigger movement. Building confidence, and removing doubt. Saying, ‘yes, I can do this’. After all, he has mastered this skill in the past. So, he can do it again.
It would be easy for Cech to think that, he is ‘weak’ at crosses. But it’s more likely, that he is ‘weak’ in one aspect of the process. For example, the first movement of the feet; or the leap for the ball; or his concentration on the ball.
He can begin to turn this perceived weakness, into a strength. But first he must work through the doubts. Recognise them. Then overcome them. His problem is not a lack of bottle. But more likely, a lack of a coherent strategy, to resolve this footballing issue.