Barely a month ago, veteran Chelsea defender Gary Cahill was seen as a major liability in the Chelsea defense. A steady, if largely unspectacular performer throughout his Chelsea career up to that point, Cahill’s sudden penchant for making the big, obvious, dumb mistake was so concerning, we even considered the possibility of him being stuck in some sort temporal time vortex of infinite nightmarish flashbacks.
As it turned out, he just needed a reset. The whole team did in fact. Turn them off and then back on again. With the crucial system updates applied upon the restart, Chelsea have now gone 4.5 Premier League games, since half-time of the 3-0 loss to Arsenal, without conceding. Gary Cahill, alongside David Luiz and César Azpilicueta*, has played all 400+ minutes of this clean sheet-streak. (Azpilicueta was technically a right wing-back in the second half of the Arsenal game, with Ivanović slotting in at right center-back; those roles have now been reversed, with Ivanović also dropping to be just a backup to Victor Moses.)
"Don’t write me off! I feel like not just with myself, in general, it’s easy to criticise someone after certain matches and it’s fair enough because sometimes you haven’t had a good game. Yet people are very quick to write people off and that’s dangerous to do when you have a mindset as strong as mine."
"If you are at the top level you have to be mentally strong. It was a matter of time before I turned the corner and got back to the performance levels that I should be at. The last four games I’m back to where I should be, I’m playing well, I feel good."
"We talk about character of the team but sometimes you have to show character yourself and that’s what I feel like I have done."
With captain John Terry and vice-captain Branislav Ivanović looking very much like emergency backups these days (when they are fit in the first place), Gary Cahill has taken over the armband in the last four Premier League games.
We’ve poked fun at EBGC’s mentality and apparent penchant for utter despair, but Cahill clearly didn’t give up this fight and has proven himself all over again. That’s certainly worthy of a captain’s designation, a responsibility which he’s handled at times at national team level, too.
"I don’t want to talk too much because football seems to go week by week these days. One day I’m captain and we have kept a clean sheet, the next day I’m moving on!"
"I have learned to deal with [the after effects of a bad game] better over the years. I will never go away from a game having played badly and dust it off as if it doesn’t matter. That’s just not me."
"People deal with things differently but I certainly reflect. I sometimes beat myself up personally but, in terms of my frame of mind, when things don’t go well I want to be there."
"But the manager comes into this as well. There was a time, maybe after the game at Arsenal, where I could have been pulled out of the side but he showed belief in me."
"I’m not the kind of person to shy away and think 'things aren’t going well so I’ll take a back seat'. I’m pleased with how it has gone over the last few matches."
Chelsea have undoubtedly found plenty of success with the new tactics, and every good result leads to more confidence in the plans implemented by Antonio Conte. Still, there's a long season ahead and we’ll have to continue to be at our best to remain in the title race.
"I heard the manager speak the other day and he said that when you get the results, it gives you belief that it [the formation] is working and you’re going in the right direction."
"We are seeing the results on the pitch. It’s a long season, a long way to go, but it’s important we stay in and among the front runners."
-Gary Cahill; Source: London Evening Standard
Gary Cahill has played every single minute of every single game so far this season (as has César Azpilicueta), and that trend doesn’t look like abating any time soon at the moment. With other veterans seemingly on the way out, Cahill, and the 4+ years left on his contract, could be stepping into that leadership void on a permanent basis as we bring up the true next generation of defensive talent in the likes of Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen.