Gary Cahill, who missed just 124 minutes of league action last season (a personal best), is currently on pace for fewest Premier League minutes in a season since his debut season for Bolton Wanderers a decade ago. Back then, he will have only dreamed of winning as many trophies as he has in his 6.5 seasons at Chelsea. But after what’s been a most trying season that began badly (red card just 17 minutes into the season) and has never quite managed to rise above that level, the club captain started back-to-back games for the first time in two months yesterday — with Rüdiger rotating out for the second time in four Premier League matches and Christensen also getting a bit of rest lately.
Cahill was part of a very settled starting eleven for Conte last season, but given a more congested schedule and a host of injuries, the Chelsea head coach has not been able to settle on one this year. More often than not however, his club captain has not been part of the defence, especially in the spate of massive games lately. Cahill only made the bench in both legs against Barcelona as well as the visits to both the red and blue halves of Manchester.
But even as Conte searches for answers, the pattern of games has stayed far too familiar, with Chelsea failing to take advantage of opportunities in front of goal, giving away goals with individual mistakes at the other end, and failing to hold on to leads. It was more of the same yesterday, before it all changed in the last 20-30 minutes and Chelsea engineered an historic comeback win.
It was a much needed and much deserved morale boost, even if the top four is basically gone. There is still the small matter of the FA Cup of course, which for Cahill is actually not a small matter at all.
“We played poorly in the first half, gave them the edge and they went 1-0 up. To get the second one could have been a killer for us, so that’s an important three points for morale and the feeling going into next week.”
“I don’t want to speak negatively, but it’s very difficult [to finish in the top four] when the gap is what it is. For top teams to drop that many points is unlikely, but we have to finish the season as strongly as we possibly can, and obviously we have got the semi-final next week, as well as the midweek game against Burnley who have been fantastic this season, so we know that’s going to be tough. It’s our responsibility to finish the season as strongly as we possibly can and we needed that win [yesterday].”
-Gary Cahill; source: Chelsea FC
Onwards and upwards.