LONDON — These were the moments Cole Palmer joined Chelsea for. Deep into stoppage-time at the end of a breathless, enthralling encounter between the Blues and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, the 21-year-old was entrusted to convert a 95th-minute penalty to salvage a 4-4 draw against the Premier League champions.
It is precisely the level of responsibility Palmer felt he would not get at Man City, despite manager Pep Guardiola’s promise of more game time, triggering the winger’s £42.5-million summer move to west London.
Palmer wasn’t prepared to wait any longer at City, and the maturity he showed in a moment of maximum pressure on Sunday showed why.
“I trust in my natural ability,” Palmer told Sky Sports afterwards, underlining the mixture of confidence and technique that makes him such an exciting prospect. He dispatched the spot-kick with power and precision past a helpless Éderson in goal to provide the final twist in a magnificent game that will stand as a reference point for the progress Mauricio Pochettino is making as new manager with his expensively assembled squad.
Palmer could have been City’s breakthrough star — particularly after the summer departure of Riyad Mahrez — but instead he is on his way to becoming the poster boy of the Pochettino era.
“He showing from the day he arrived here, he doesn’t feel the pressure,” said Pochettino. “The character and talent he is showing is very good for the team. I am so happy for him.”
This was the fourth penalty Palmer has converted this season but his game is about so much more than finishing from 12 yards. Lost in the manic maelstrom of a game, Palmer almost scored a magical second-half goal, embarking on a run before Ederson produced a sublime save to keep out his shot.
Palmer worked tirelessly out of possession but still ended this game making more successful passes into the final third (seven) than any other player on the pitch, a feat all the more remarkable given there were eight goals and a catalogue of chances in a game to rival any for entertainment in the division this season.
Erling Haaland opened the scoring with a 25th-minute penalty awarded by referee Anthony Taylor despite the City striker appearing to hold Marc Cucurella‘s shirt first before he was hauled to the ground himself.
VAR controversy is never far from the surface these days, but what followed was, thankfully, so gloriously chaotic that it was rendered a footnote. The defending from both teams was often appalling. Chelsea’s Thiago Silva was completely unmarked to head home a Conor Gallagher corner to equalise on 29 minutes. Then Man City’s Josko Gvardiol appeared to completely lose his bearings in allowing Reece James to cross for Raheem Sterling — another former Man City player — to sidefoot a goal home.
Chelsea were up 2-1 at that point, but were then painfully slow in reacting to a short corner that Bernardo Silva collected and crossed with Manuel Akanji completely free to head in an equaliser in first-half stoppage-time.
Haaland put City ahead two minutes after the restart with a flowing move ending with the 23-year-old bundling the ball over the line but Guardiola’s side were never quite able to establish their customary control — perhaps missing John Stones‘ composure in midfield — as Chelsea’s character came to the fore.
Ederson could only push out Gallagher’s 67th-minute drive to Nicolas Jackson, who turned the ball home for his fourth goal for Chelsea in a week. Rodri appeared to have won it for City when his deflected 86th-minute strike flew past Robert Sánchez. But in the waning moments of the game, Rúben Dias fouled Armando Broja in the box and Palmer took centre stage for the penalty kick.
Chelsea’s deal to sign Palmer in the summer transfer window was somewhat opportunistic given they pivoted after missing out on signing Michael Olise, who instead signed a new contract with Crystal Palace. But after playing a significant role in England winning the Under-21 Championship in July, Palmer looks ready to kick on once more.
Guardiola still seemed to be gathering his thoughts at the end of the first 4-4 draw in his 882 games as a manager. But given his primary concern seems to be maintaining their hunger after the treble-winning campaign, he can take heart from the resolve they showed here.
“We are top of the league and qualified in the Champions League,” Guardiola said. “From where we have come from [last season], when you can have the tendency to be more soft, it is the complete opposite. It hasn’t happened.
“If you expect come here and win 7-0, you are wrong. Everyone want to beat us. You say there is nothing to lose for them because if Chelsea lose to city, it’s normal, City are a fantastic team.”
Pochettino, meanwhile, apologised to Guardiola and the match officials for shunning the usual postmatch handshake in favour of a rant in Taylor’s direction, frustrated by a Chelsea attack being abruptly halted. That anger quickly subsided as pride in the performance overtook it.
“We face a team that for me is the best in the world,” he said. “Too many circumstances that happen during the game made me very proud. The way we managed the game was really good. “Things to improve but it is the process. When you want to build a project from zero, this type of experience will improve our players.”
Palmer is already proof of that.
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