I've been a harsh critic of Gary Cahill many times before, but it's hard to deny that we've gotten excellent value out of him. He arrived for a relatively small transfer fee (but with a fairly outsized wage packet) in January 2012, and all he's done since is start and win a Champions League final, start and win a Europa League final, and, now, start and win a League Cup final. In between, he did miss our FA Cup final against Liverpool through injury.
He's worked his way into three managers' starting lineups and at one point not that long ago was by far our most used center back. He formed a very solid partnership with John Terry last season, relegating David Luiz to the bench and the occasional midfield start, eventually making the curly haired one expendable.
Cahill started this season where he left off the last, right next to Terry. And while his performances weren't exactly as great -- no doubt due in part to Chelsea's change to a more expansive style of football -- prior to the turn of the year, he had started all but three games. But after the 5-3 debacle against Spurs, he started just six of the next 11. Most tellingly, he was left on the bench against Liverpool in the League Cup semifinal second leg and against Manchester City in the league a few days later. He did start against PSG but was back on the bench against Burnley. Perhaps if Nemanja Matic doesn't get suspended, Cahill would've remained there. But Matic was out, Zouma was deployed in midfield instead, and Cahill got the chance to impress. Which he largely did, keeping Harry Kane much more quiet than on New Year's Day.
"Up until Christmas I was unbeaten for Chelsea and unbeaten for England [this season], five clean sheets for England and everything was fine. But you are not a robot. You are going to go through times where you are not going to be where you want to be. But I have come through it time and time again. It's not the first time. You flip that on its head and it becomes a motivation."
"Winning the League Cup, it's an amazing feeling. It gives us such a boost, and now we can kick on for the rest of the season. It was a huge game because of the importance of the feelgood factor. It's not like an FA Cup final at the end of the season."
Y'all better make way, here comes a bit of fire from the quiet man.
"I have proved people wrong before, and I will do it again."
"After Christmas I had a couple of incidents, with performances which weren't at the standard I would want them to be - and I don't need anybody to tell me that. I reflect on everything that I do, I don't think go around thinking everything is rosy. I am my own worst critic. I've learned as I've got older to be a bit less hard on myself than when I was younger. Then, I thought it was the end of the world. Now I move on a bit better."
"But I've had it before in my career. When you have a little dip in form, you just play and come through the other end. I have proved it time and time again. I proved it when I was at Bolton and I got the England call-up. I was told, ‘You can't play for England, you're at Bolton'. I proved them wrong. I came to Chelsea and it was, ‘Oh you can't play Champions League, you can't do this, you can't do that' - and I proved them wrong."
"It's that fire in your belly. Although you'd wish not to have it, the criticism is probably what has got me to where I am today. This is no different. I will come out the other end without a shadow of a doubt - like you saw on Sunday."
Even Cahill, man, even Cahill. Whatever they put into the League Cup, it sure's proving to be a powerful tonic already.