Statistical Analysis: Is Gary Cahill a good enough defender for Chelsea?

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Gary Cahill was signed by Chelsea in January last year, seen by many as a potential long term replacement for John Terry, who has had his share of injury problems of late. The England international has been a regular Chelsea player this season, particularly in the absence of John Terry, making 19 appearances, more than any other Chelsea centre-back. Cahill is often highly rated, with David Luiz baring the brunt of Chelsea defensive woes. In truth though, Cahill is as culpable, if not at times more culpable than Luiz at the back, making a string of ‘lower profile’ errors. As Chelsea have been leaking goals lately, including three more goals at the weekend it is worth looking at Cahill’s stats compared to other Chelsea defenders.

Statistical comparison

Goals conc per game Tackle success Mins per ground duel Ground duel Success Aerial duel success Passing accuracy Mins per loss of possession Mins per possession won
Cahill 1.47 81% 28 56% 74% 89% 397 22
Terry 1 86% 37 63% 71% 89% 296 21
Luiz 0.78 91.3% 15 46% 54% 81% 90 17
Ivanovic 0.96 87% 21 58% 60% 82% 226 24

Chelsea concede the most goals with Cahill at centre-back and the least with the much maligned David Luiz in the side (although a few of his games have been at centre-mid). This appears to a degree, to corroberate the view that Luiz is harshly judged in comparison to his English team-mate.

Cahill performs well in regards to aerial duels and passing ability, where he is top and joint top respectively. He also loses possession less frequently than his team-mates. Anyone who observes Cahill can testify to his good technique on the ball, as he often likes to surge out of the back, as he did successfully versus Reading earlier in the season to make the score 2-2.  Aside from that though, in a purely defensive capacity he performs quite poorly. His tackle success is the lowest and his ground duel success is second worst.

Luiz is an interesting case, with the highest tackle success %, but lowest ground duel success. The reason for this is that Luiz attempts far more ground duels than his team-mates, probably because he commits too frequently, rather than standing off as most centre-backs do. The result of this is that he often comes out of these duels as the loser. That being said, he wins possession back more frequently than the others, likely for the same reason , he puts himself about more regularly. Further to this, he loses the ball far too frequently, at least once a game. For a defender, especially in the modern game, you need to be assured in possession and be able to keep the play ticking over, something he does not do. Despite that, he is a good technical player but lapses in concentration when in possession as well as attempting difficult passes lets Luiz down. Luiz is also quite weak in the air with only 54% aerial duel success, compared to the 74% for Cahill.

John Terry has not been amazing this season, although he’s missed chunks through injury and suspension. Against Newcastle he looked off the pace, but so did Cahill. Terry’s stats are still very good with the second highest aerial success and the best ground duel success. His passing is also joint top and he is second with regard to frequency of winning possession.

Is Cahill good?

The truth is Cahill makes so many small errors that go un-noticed. People criticize Luiz more as a result of him being foreign and an easy target. His mistakes are very noticeable whereas Cahill’s are often more subtle. Cahill’s positioning is very poor and he is often responsible for letting opposition forwards ghost in behind him, which is a fundamental error in defending. In Chelsea’s game against Manchester United earlier this season much attention was on ref Mark Clattenburg. With regards to the Ivanovic red card this was partially Cahill’s fault. Robin van Persie turned Cahill far too easily (who wasn’t tight enough) to play a through ball into Young, splitting Chelsea open and forcing the foul from Ivanovic. The attention is on Ivanovic, but it was the initial error (and exploitation from RvP) that caused the red card.

There have also been other examples. Against Juventus in Turin, Cahill was awful. Too often he got the wrong side of his forward, one time leading to a penalty appeal that was not given, although probably should have been, as Cahill got the wrong side of his man and pulled him down to recover. This is an occurrence that is frankly too regular at Chelsea. Cahill often loses his man and then allows space in behind him which is easily exploited by a top class centre-forward. Whilst Terry is also not very quick, his own positional play tends to be so good that he is not often exploited in behind. Cahill is often let off as a result of the fact he is English and by journalists who find it easier to scrutinize the more obvious errors made by David Luiz. In reality though, Cahill makes a plethora of small mistakes that cost Chelsea in a less obvious, but still crucial way.

Conclusion

Gary Cahill is a player who has escaped criticism on the whole since joining Chelsea. He performed very well in Munich last year and did well generally when called upon in the successful Champions League campaign, that being said, he’s been less than impressive this term. Cahill is a good ball player and good in the air, but his positional awareness and organizational skills are just nowhere near as good as John Terry’s. The fact remains that Chelsea are conceding the most goals with Cahill in the side.

Chelsea might have to consider buying a new centre-back, considering that Ivanovic is better at right back, Terry is injury prone and ageing, whilst Luiz is at times too erratic. Were Cahill not English he’d probably be criticized a lot more and were he not English Chelsea might not have signed him. He is of course not a bad defender, but he is also not good enough for a club with Chelsea’s ambitions, other than as a squad player at best. This may seem harsh, but anyone who has observed Cahill closely this season will testify to his lack of positional awareness.

7 comments for “Statistical Analysis: Is Gary Cahill a good enough defender for Chelsea?

  1. samuel
    February 5, 2013 at 11:20

    cahill is the best centre back in chelsea by now and can be a starter in every big four teams leave alone chelsea.

  2. Dan
    February 5, 2013 at 14:44

    Have to say it’s not really fair to criticize him based just on goals allowed, look at his other numbers, they are superb! I think the real problem is the partnership and the midfield. Chelsea, and this is strange to say, really need Mikel back from AFCON.

  3. Dempsey's eye
    February 5, 2013 at 17:21

    Cahill’s prowess on the ball is hugely mis-understood too, which is one of his 2 strengths listed here. He is seen as technically proficient purely due to his shooting ability, it’s like calling Hasselbank a better ball-player than Zidane as he had a more deadly shot. His passing stats highlight how the ‘Joe Allen factor’ render theses sort of contextless figures useless. His percentage is superior to that of Luiz as Luiz attempts far more probing passes while Cahill sticks to the steady 5-10 yarders.
    That essentially leaves 1 strength for Cahill, his heading. For the same reason Shawcross and Samba won’t ever get near an elite side Cahill is out of his depth at Chelsea. Don’t sound surprised, this is the exact same Cahill we saw at years for Bolton, one who could only better partner Zat Knight with his goals, not exactly a key part of a centre back’s game.

  4. jabba the hun
    February 5, 2013 at 18:54

    Spot on. He got no positional sense. I wud say equivalent to west broms clint hill. Can head the ball nd be a grunt bt nothng else. He’s past making any sharp improvement in his ability so the price they got him at seems a bad investment. Luiz too seems a wierd one. Who is making those calls? Tores, cahil, luiz. He neds to be fired.

  5. February 6, 2013 at 00:21

    another great article amit. ‘were cahill not english he would get lot more criticism, and were he not english chelsea wouldnt have surprised him.’ gets to the point nicely!i wonder how much time he will be given before chelsea start looking at alternatives

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