Gary Cahill – Weak Link In Chelsea’s Defence?

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Updated: December 18, 2014

Chelsea have had a flying start to the season this time around, and despite a few shaky performances in recent weeks, Chelsea’s play has been better than their other rivals. While Manchester City rode on Aguero for some time, and anyone playing against Manchester United seems to shoot nowhere other than De Gea’s body, Chelsea have looked as if powered by the tesseract – energetic, brutal, pure and often self-implosive. While Chelsea have looked as if they’ll wrap up the title before March at times, at others they look so vulnerable that the lead slipping away seems inevitable.

While Chelsea have not conceded boatload of goals – only 13 so far, at par for the PL’s best defence with Southampton – they have a surprisingly low number of clean sheets. The indomitable team of Jose Mourinho’s first era in charge had a certain hallmark. They could hold on to 1-0 leads without giving the fan base heart attacks. That team, with an adamantium-strong spine of robust, tireless and toughened players, was confident enough in its ability to not make game-changing mistakes that could jeopardise the game.

While John Terry was arguably the best defender at the club, no less credit went the way of his partner, Ricardo Carvalho. He complemented JT in the perfect manner. While JT was slower, more physical and very vocal, Riccy went about his job with panache and dynamism, sweeping the lines rapidly, fouling tactically and being where JT couldn’t reach fast enough. This is how a perfect defensive partnership is supposed to be. Two complementary players who were tactically astute enough to co-exist. This is just what the club had in mind when they brought in David Luiz. The Brazilian would have been a perfect partner for JT on paper. But his attacking forays forward and mistake-prone nature meant that he sold JT out often. Presumably, his on-paper attributes was what Paris St-Germain had in mind when they forked out £50 million to pair him up with the more static Thiago Silva. And that left Chelsea with Gary Cahill as Terry’s partner.

While the younger Englishman isn’t a bad defender by any means, he isn’t the kind of player you would want to play alongside John Terry. In fact, he is the most similar defender to Terry in the club’s ranks. But unlike the former English captain, Cahill does not have the sense of reading the danger before it occurs and that often leaves the defence in sticky situations. Cahill was very good when he played in a low-block, like the system that the club employed under Di Matteo and Benitez, and often last season. That is primarily because there was always a defensive minded midfielder right in-front of him, and he was left to do some late blocking and mopping up.

Cahill is one of the best in the business when it comes to putting the body in front of the shot, but when it comes to interceptions and astute positioning to close out lanes and channels, he’s at his wit’s end. A major flaw in his game is that he loves to back away from attackers and he does it till the attacker readies himself for a shot, and then he primes himself

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for a block. When it comes off, it looks as spectacular as any other last-ditch tackle, but top players know how to evade that and often end up putting the ball in the net. What is so frustrating about it is that, there is no need for last-ditch heroics and a reference to Defending 101 would serve him better in such situations – CLEAR THE DANGER ASAP! Klaas Jan Huntelaar took advantage of this when Schalke visited Chelsea, scoring a crucial equalizer.

In fact, due to the change in the system, his play has been affected so much that his numbers have gone down considerably from the past two seasons. While he was heralded as a man reborn after his solid play last season, there are people calling out for his head. His key numbers have been dropping and in a high-line system that Chelsea employ, he is increasingly looking like a fish out of water. He is required to make crucial interceptions and stop play before it develops. This is mainly because Matic and Fabregas both like to participate in attacks, and he is also very frequently sold out by the right back, Branislav Ivanovic. Attackers coming down the right, down the space Ivanovic has left open, often roast Cahill and get a clear path to the goal. Frazier Campbell (Crystal Palace) and Harry Kane (Spurs) got the better of him in recent weeks. He ended up looking comical in either situation and put the team in compromising spots of bother.

Comparison

Comparing his numbers with the other top centre backs in the Premier League – Terry, Kompany and Koscielny – reveals better how he fares. It must be noted though that defensive numbers are to be taken with a grain (or more) of salt because of the fact that different systems have different demands from their defenders. For example, Koscielny has such a high number of interceptions because Arsenal play a very high line, where there are more tackles and interceptions. And the lack of a defensive minded midfielder means that Koscielny often has to shuttle slightly upwards and fill a makeshift defensive midfield role with Mertesacker playing the anchor. Cahill has similar numbers to Terry but has a higher number of blocks per 90 mins than Terry. An interesting trend is also the fact that Cahill commits fouls at a much higher rate than Terry.

While Cahill does seem a liability in a high line, Chelsea do not have many backups that can easily bench him. While Zouma has really impressed in the few outings he has had, it still might be a season too early for the big Frenchman to become a sure-shot starter. And with Zouma and the other centerback prospects in mind, like Kalas, Omeruo and Christensen, I doubt that the club will go in for a CB in the January window. Also, the prime CBs that seem to be available (looking at you, Mats Hummels) are of the same ilk as Terry or Cahill. With that in mind, Chelsea would be better served with a slight rejig across the back four.

If I were in charge, I would bring Ivanovic back central to partner Terry, because the Serbian is more than just brutish strength. He reads the game well and is also deceptively fast. That would be another plus as the team can then play natural-sided full backs, with Azpilicueta and Luis flanking the two centerbacks. But as for Cahill, though he is a very good defender, he just isn’t cut out for a high-line system. If he can iron out his mistakes, he will be welcomed back. Until then he can serve as a quality backup for Terry.

Author’s Note: All the statistics for this article were sourced from Squawka.com

17 Comments

  1. solomon

    December 18, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    Very nice article, i thougth i am the only one seeing his (cahil) weakness. even newcastle used his errors to beat chelsea.

  2. Mentor

    December 18, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    Cc: Mourinho

  3. carlo martin

    December 18, 2014 at 11:25 AM

    Cahill is as good a defender as you can get,probably underrated but definitely world class

  4. glenn chong

    December 18, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    Yes it may be try that Cahill has had a bad few games and that lead to goals conceded. However wecannot just simply call home the weak link. I have faith that Cahill will improve and will be a second rock next to JT

    • Rakesh

      December 18, 2014 at 4:38 PM

      Problem with Cahill is his positioning he dives too much goals which we have conceded this season majority of them came from his errors. 2nd part of the season Zouma would be an important player

  5. Rakesh

    December 18, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    Nice article spot on

    Cheers

  6. charles

    December 18, 2014 at 7:14 PM

    Cahill isn’t really to be singled out for any blame but the whole defence line especialy ivanovic who sometimes forgt his position and play like david luiz

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  8. Dave

    December 19, 2014 at 7:05 PM

    Ivanocic’s overlap usually causes much work for Cahill, such that he is left with the RB&CB position 2 deal with, I fnk Cahill has 2 much on his plates due 2 the serbian’s attacking nature,Azpi. Shld cum 2 d right&Filipe 2 d Left…Cahill shld continue with Terry…&u’d see d difference

    • Jaymac

      December 20, 2014 at 11:36 AM

      I did argue this matter with a friend recently. Ivanovic regularly forgets that he is first and foremost a defender,most of the times he went for his many attacks he in most of those times forget to track back as a defender,that’s what is placing the great burden and subsequent mistakes on Cahill.

  9. joziblue

    December 19, 2014 at 7:56 PM

    Good analysis. My first choice to partner Terry is Real Madrid’s Varane. Jose brought him to Real three seasons ago to fast track him yet nowadays he’s still third choice in Ancelotti’s team. Varane is lightning fast, reads the game very well and passes out of defence with the vision and accuracy of a David Luiz. To me, he’s worth trading a Cahill or even a Cech to get hold of next summer.

  10. Victor Ifeaka Okoli

    December 20, 2014 at 3:19 AM

    The lapses in Cahill’s defensive style should be corrected, I have watched him to see that his true potentials are yet to be fully tapped. No one should call for his head yet

  11. Jaymac

    December 20, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    I agree with this write up, it is very correct Cahill is the weak link in Chelsea’s defense this very season, and if something reasonable is not done about it,he may be the link that will cause the club to miss the trophy this season. It was one of his shadow defendings that resulted in Newcastle’s first goal!

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