How Chelsea Defender Gary Cahill Has Proved His England Critics Wrong This Year
The aftermath of any transfer window often leaves us with time to reflect on the big moves that happened, those that might have been, and the bargains some clubs were fortunate to pick up.
In the coming weeks and months as the season progresses, the wisdom of Arsenal splashing out £42.5 million for Mesut Ozil on deadline day will be put to the test, as will Manchester United's decision to bring Marouane Fellaini to Old Trafford.
Were the purchases pushed through by the clubs hitting the panic button, or were the moves part of a long-term plan? We'll never know, but similar to those last-minute deals, winter additions face a similar level of scrutiny.
Chelsea got both.
Cahill has had his share of positive and negative reviews in the 18 months since. But this season has marked him out as one of England's most able defenders, giving the Blues a timely dividend on their modest investment.
It wasn't the case when he turned out for his country against Scotland in mid-August, however.
"I think the criticism was fair, probably," Cahill commented this week to Charlie Wyett of the Sun (access via a paywall) reflecting on the jibes put his way after a mixed performance for the Three Lions at Wembley.
Jose Mourinho was more than likely watching proceedings that night and would be forgiven had he thought there may be a need to bring another centre-back into his side to partner John Terry.
Whether it was preseason fatigue or a lack of match sharpness, it wasn't the Cahill we have since seen.
I analyse stuff myself and take pride in my performances and, if something happens like that, of course it hurts and you look at what you can do.
Most importantly you look at what you can do to improve on it. There are certain things you know straightaway you can improve on. I just replay it in my head. You know straightaway when you have made a mistake.
Facing Scotland wasn't Cahill's finest hour. Yet less than a month on, he is looking every bit the player Chelsea thought they were signing from Bolton Wanderers.
Aside from Eden Hazard, Chelsea's Englishman has been arguably the club's best performer in 2013-14. It was telling Mourinho opted for Cahill to partner David Luiz in defence against Bayern Munich in the Super Cup last week.
Chelsea had faced Manchester United four days previously. Despite the prospect of no fixtures for two weeks as a result of the international break, Mourinho felt the need to rest his captain, Terry. There was an element of tactics involved, sure, but it was an acknowledgement from the Chelsea manager that Cahill has more than earned his place in this Chelsea team.
Who has been Chelsea's best defender this season?
We can marvel at his displays in a blue shirt this term, but the stats back up what many have seen. In fact, they stand to make his early form look all the more impressive.
In the Premier League, Chelsea have conceded just once in their opening three games. In that time Cahill has been a rock, hardly putting a foot wrong. He has not even conceded a single free-kick.
The former former Aston Villa man has been dominant in the air. He's been sharp in his reading of the game, winning on average 1.3 offside calls, while he's been on hand to make six clearances a match.
Chelsea have invested hundreds of millions in attacking talent in their bid to bring the title back to Stamford Bridge. If Cahill's form continues, it could be his comparatively modest fee that proves the best investment of them all.
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