COLE Palmer appeared to be a transfer market afterthought for Chelsea. Signed from Manchester City on deadline day, the 21-year-old arrived at Stamford Bridge when the Blues had no apparent need for him – especially for a fee of £42.5m most considered over-inflated. Now, though, that fee represents a bargain.
Palmer has quickly become a central part of Mauricio Pochettino’s plans as demonstrated by his eye-catching performance for Chelsea in their 4-4 draw against Manchester City. Motivated by a desire to prove a point to his former club, Palmer scored a stoppage time equaliser from the spot and was influential in all areas of the game.
Pochettino has quickly recognised Palmer’s qualities and is using them to give Chelsea a coherent identity for the first time in years. Against Manchester City, Palmer was pushed inside from the right wing to give Chelsea a man-advantage in the midfield area which prevented last season’s Treble winners from playing through the centre.
Chelsea were effective in pressing high on City when they had the ball and this press was often led by Palmer who more than once forced Josko Gvardiol into making a mistake. Palmer is an intelligent, versatile player who has clearly learned his trade under Pep Guardiola and Pochettino is now using that to Chelsea’s benefit.
In the attacking phase, Palmer was quick to get into the half-spaces and gave Chelsea a reliable route into transition. Without the 21-year-old, the Blues wouldn’t have been able to get in behind the Manchester City backline so often. On and off the ball, Palmer is now Chelsea’s most important player.
“We need to be calm,” said Pochettino, who compared Palmer to Angel di Maria. “He’s a very talented player. He’s getting more mature and experience. He has the capacity to be the playmaker that can link with his team-mates, very important for us in the way we want to play. Not talk too much as need to give the time to learn and improve and see in few years if he will be the big player we saw.”
Gareth Southgate also sees Palmer’s potential. The 21-year-old was handed his first England call-up on Monday and with Euro 2024 qualification already secure it’s entirely possible he will get an opportunity to make an impact against Malta and North Macedonia. Palmer could be part of the England squad that travels to Germany next summer.
Under Pochettino, Chelsea are a work-in-progress. They are still sitting smack bang in mid-table and have just four wins from their opening 12 league matches this season. Pochettino has made Chelsea exciting again, but the 4-4 draw against Manchester City proved they can’t always control the chaos they create. Sometimes it overwhelms them.
Nicolas Jackson has scored four goals in his last two games, but the Senegalese striker is still raw and must work on his composure in front of goal if he is to flourish into a world class number nine. Conor Gallagher is another who must refine certain parts of his game to become the player Chelsea need him to be. Even with Palmer thriving, Chelsea are a long way from being strong enough to compete for top honours.
Close to £1 billion has been spent on new players in the last three transfer windows with Chelsea largely focusing on talented youngsters. Mykhailo Mudryk, Moises Caicedo, Romeo Lavia, Enzo Fernandez, Malo Gusto, Benoit Badiashille and Jackson all have promise, but Palmer has put it all together quicker than anyone else. He embodies what Chelsea could be.