Gary Cahill ended the season of 2014/15 as José Mourinho’s first choice partner to a peerless John Terry. However, it was not all plain sailing for the Derbyshire-born centre back as new talents emerged to challenge him for the right to play alongside Chelsea’s legendary captain. Last season, Cahill finished with three goals from 57 appearances. He notched his efforts in the win at Anfield, and the ill-fated knockout matches with Bradford and PSG in the Champions League, forming part of the highest scoring defence in Europe. With the Blues achieving a league and cup double last season and Cahill maintaining a regular presence in the side, it was clearly a good year, though not without faults.
In the early part of the season, with the team flying, Chelsea conceded too many simple goals. With Branislav Ivanovic pushing high up the pitch (to good effect, admittedly), Cahill was left isolated at the back and quite often exposed. With the ushering in of the more defensively minded formations following the disastrous loss at Tottenham, Cahill looked far more at ease, slotting in well to cover for Terry or Ivanovic, recovering his form to end the season on a high.
However, he faced some serious competition for his place in the form of young Kurt Zouma, and this threat is unlikely to dissipate any time soon. The young Frenchman showed a great deal of versatility and positional discipline during the season, most notably at home to Manchester United and in the Cup Final against Tottenham, in both cases nullifying key opposition threats as Chelsea went onto win the game. He also stepped up well at centre half whenever Cahill was out of action.
Despite briefly losing his place to the youngster, Cahill quickly regained it for the stretch run, excelling in the back end of the season with a reliability that will no doubt help his cause in the eyes of Jose Mourinho. How much of the defensive stability when Chelsea battened down the hatches is on Cahill and how much ought to be credited to his rather more decorated defensive partner is an open question, but the 29-year-old undoubtedly played his part in the Blues’ first league title in five years.
In the long term, Chelsea will look to the likes of Cahill to step up into a leadership role,.Terry is not getting any younger, despite his awe inspiring performances during Mourinho’s second spell, and the club needs to find that rare combination of reliable cover and eventual successor for a club legend. This summer, depending on what happens with John Obi Mikel, Cahill could be left as the only member of the 11 that won in Munich, and strange as it is to sound for a man bought from Bolton Wanderers, that big match winning experience could prove invaluable to a developing group of footballers.
As he showed against Bayern Munich on probably the greatest night in Chelsea history, Cahill’s at his best when the team’s backs are against the wall. The cynic might suggest at this point that this is because it prevents him from retreating any further, which has always been his most notorious weakness, but it’s a rare player who can overcome such ridiculous odds to help lead his team to glory, and Cahill’s ability to deal with and recover from impossible-looking positions is a huge mark in his favour. Even he helps to create them at times.
That trait suggests that it’s possible that he might the step up to a true leadership position, but his performances without John Terry last season may leave the Blues a tad uneasy. Cahill has grown to the level required at Chelsea and on his best days you could mistake him for the captain (they even move the same way!). But now it is time for him to make the step up from pretender to true leader. If he fails, he risks being overtaken by a new generation of Chelsea talent.
We Ain't Got No History's 2015/16 season preview was edited by Joe Tweeds and designed by Graham MacAree. If you've enjoyed the work of the authors who generously donated their time to this project, please share with your friends and consider supporting The Chelsea Foundation as a way of saying thank you.Credits