Why the signing of Gary Cahill was a stroke of genius from Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson

Gary Cahill has thrived at Crystal Palace since joining on a free transfer from Chelsea last summer.

Crystal Palace moved to within six points of European qualification before the suspension of the Premier League following the outbreak of Covid-19.

They strung together a run of three successive league victories against Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Watford respectively.

Furthermore, they boast the best defensive record outside the top seven, conceding just 32 goals in 29 games.

Cahill has revived his career after being ostracized by Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea to become a key figure at Selhurst Park.

A major coup for Palace

The 34-year-old won six major trophies across seven seasons at Stamford Bridge, including two Premier League titles and one UEFA Champions League.

He also earned 61 caps for England and played over 150 league games for Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers respectively earlier in his career.

In 290 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea, Cahill captained them 79 times, including during the 2016/17 Premier League title-winning season. However, Sarri reduced him to just 22 minutes of action in the Premier League last term and Cahill responded by announcing his decision to leave.  

A host of clubs battled for his signature and Palace fended off competition from Burnley, West Ham United and Aston Villa to sign him on a free transfer in May 2018. Cahill was reunited with former England manager Roy Hodgson, whom he played for 38 times, and penned a two-year contract.

A gamble paid off

His signing came with an element of risk because he had not completed a full 90 minutes in the Premier League since 2018.

Hodgson facilitated his return to match fitness by omitting him from the squad for the opening two games against Everton and Sheffield United respectively.

He made his long-awaited debut in a 2-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in August 2019 and registered his first clean sheet in a 1-0 win over Aston Villa a week later.

Injuries in defence have forced Cahill to line-up alongside a variety of options this season but he has remarkably maintained his consistency.

An injection of experience

Despite a brief spell on the sidelines in December, Cahill has been the heartbeat of the Palace defence.

Palace have been struck by a chronic injury crisis with valued key players such as James Tomkins, Mamadou Sakho and Luka Milivojevic missing large chunks of the season.

Therefore, Cahill has been tasked with stepping up and taking responsibility during his debut season and his experience has been a valuable asset.

Hodgson has handed Cahill an authoritative role within the squad and he’s twice captained Palace in the absence of Milivojevic and Tomkins.

This underlines his credentials as a leader and his performances this season suggest his rich vein of form could stretch beyond the 2019/20 campaign.

A promising partnership between Cahill and Dann

Cahill has played next to Sakho, Tomkins and Martin Kelly at different stages this season. He previously kept just two clean sheets in his opening 19 league appearances for the club, but his recent partnership with Scott Dann has delivered an upturn in fortunes for The Eagles.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 29: Gary Cahill and Scott Dann of Crystal Palace celebrate during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace at American Express Community Stadium on February 29, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Dann has enjoyed a respectable career at Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers respectively and was a key figure during his opening four seasons at Selhurst Park. He was also voted Crystal Palace’s Player of the Year in 2014/15 but a cruciate ligament injury in December 2017 placed his future in jeopardy.

A string of other injuries has delayed his return to the first team and he’s been reduced to just 23 appearances in all competitions over the past two seasons. However, his past three appearances alongside Cahill suggest he could be set to enjoy a revival of his own.

The pair kept three clean sheets before the suspension of the season and defended valiantly to keep Watford at bay in their last outing.

Their positional play made it very difficult for Watford to discover gaps in the final third and the timing of their challenges was a sight to behold. The injury crisis has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise for Palace and Dann and Cahill will give Hodgson a team selection headache when Sakho and Tomkins return.

The Supporters’ Voice

“At first, most Crystal Palace fans thought that Gary Cahill was a weird signing considering that we wanted to bring the age down in the squad.

Me and many other Palace fans were proven wrong from minute one when he stepped out onto the pitch on his debut against Manchester United.

He has been solid, brave and a true leader at the back for us this season. He has helped us pick up many big wins and without him our defence would leak so many goals.

His age doesn’t help the fact that we need to bring the age of the first-team down but he has been an absolute steal on a free with his vast experience and consistent MOTM performances.

Kirshon wilkins

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