When Chelsea signed gifted youngster Cole Palmer for a whopping £42.5 million from Manchester City despite only making two Premier League starts, many questioned whether this was a sensible and necessary piece of business by the Blues.
Fast forward to now and Palmer has unquestionably vindicated Chelsea’s decision to secure his services, for he’s been one of the stars of Mauricio Pochettino’s side so far.
Despite being eased into the fray by the Argentine coach, it’s been remarkable how quickly he’s settled and taken the Premier League by storm, as Chelsea are undeniably a better team with him in it.
Versatile, giving Pochettino so much tactical flexibility and so intelligent, the man who’s bagged four goals and two assists has now also deservedly earned a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
Full of confidence, personality and composure, it’s been nothing short of impressive how he’s stood up and taken games by the scruff of the neck and risen to the occasion when his team needs him – most notably by slotting four ultra-cool penalties in his last six matches.
“We are happy with the way he has arrived. He arrived on the last day of the transfer window, but is playing like he’s been here 10 years, showing his character and personality,” Pochettino insisted.
Clearly relishing playing under the experienced manager, Palmer’s skill set has been catered to brilliantly no matter where he’s deployed, for he’s loved being granted immense freedom to wreak havoc and to interpret varying roles how he sees fit.
“I like to play in all the positions to be fair. False nine, right, middle – wherever he (Chelsea head coach Mauricio Pochettino) puts me on, I am happy to play there,” Palmer insisted.
Pochettino then added: “The way he reads the situations and what the team needs in every situation, he can be the player who can link with his team-mates.”
Picking his moments when to venture infield to exploit vacancies in the half spaces and centrally between the lines, he’s done a great job of injecting impetus into attacks courtesy of his movement
It’s been admirable how he’s shrewdly rotated and dovetailed with nearby colleagues, helped manufacture numerical and positional superiorities and strategically drawn opponents to make room for foes.
On top of the above, how he’s expertly timed his runs in behind and into the box has amplified his threat, for he’s been a wizard at targeting gaps in backlines and holding his runs as defences collapse deeper to get free in the area. The examples below illustrate this aptly.
Reading the play so coherently and pouncing when space is available, which owes plenty to his slick scanning, Palmer’s proven a tough man to keep at bay.
A real game changer and force in possession, Palmer’s mastery with the ball at his feet has elevated his team’s final third impact immensely.
Boasting elite vision and execution to match, his creativity and incision has meant he’s been hugely successful at creating openings for colleagues in advanced locations. Be it wicked crosses and cutbacks, that he tailors nicely depending on the situation, pinpoint line breaking passes, classy through balls over the top or on the ground, fizzing combinations in close quarters or effortless switches of play, he’s had a pass to match any scenario.
Altering the focus to his dribbling, and this is another aspect where he excels, as he’s shone brightly in 1v1s, when surging upfield in transition and when weaving away from markers in confined spaces.
Balanced, strong, with nifty pace and great at using his body to hold up the ball, his physical prowess has afforded him a fine platform to use his fleet feet, as he rides challenges superbly, uses his arms to keep challengers away and can outmuscle foes notably.
Elegant, powerful and oozing class on the dribble, how he breezes by opponents with clinical changes of direction and speed, decisive feints and shimmies, smart drag backs and slick skills places him in promising areas to score or create, plus generates room for colleagues by drawing multiple markers.
Flexing his muscles on the defensive end as well, he’s certainly pulled his weight in this phase, for he’s pressed with intent and intensity, responded well to triggers within Pochettino’s systems, chimed in with a host of vital interventions and been on hand to support teammates.
By the numbers, upon comparing him to City star in Phil Foden this season using Wyscout data, Palmer admirably holds the ascendancy over his former teammate in a host of metrics such as assists per 90, offensive duels p90, smart passes p90, key passes p90, progressive passes p90, passes into the final third p90, through balls p90, through ball accuracy, goals p90, shots p90, shooting accuracy and conversion rate.
A real game-changer who can swing things in his team’s favour in an instant with a moment of magic, it’s been extraordinary how he’s grasped his opportunities with both hands to silence any critics about his move to Stamford Bridge. “I did look at how many players were there, but I don’t think people realise how many players they actually got rid of as well,” he told Sky Sports.
“So, when I was going there, people were saying ‘oh, there are so many players and stuff’ and all this. But I looked at the squad and thought: if I go there and know what I can do, then I’ll have the chance of playing and thankfully it’s happened.”
Joining on a seven-year deal and already firing on all cylinders, this bodes extremely well for Chelsea, as the tremendously gifted 21-year-old knows there’s still plentiful scope for improvement, which is a scary proposition for future adversaries.
Finding the right environment to thrive in after making the bold call to join Chelsea in the summer, the sky’s the limit for what Palmer can achieve for both club and country.
While Pochettino has tried to play down the hype surrounding his exciting talent, his performances are certainly heightening the spotlight on him. But positively he seems to be handling it all like a seasoned professional, as he’s remaining calm and seems relatively unfazed by all the attention.
Making it happen and breaking through at the Premier League level in scintillating style, moving to Chelsea has been the perfect fit for him to truly demonstrate what he’s all about.