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.
‘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.
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.
‘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.
‘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. – Daily Mail