Palmer kept cool to put away his 95th minute penalty
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A player that Manchester City let go reins them back in, in a game that took off. Cole Palmer’s fine stoppage-time penalty was quite an ending to the story of the day, crowning what was probably the match of the season so far. While Chelsea’s late 4-4 draw ensures the defending champions are only a point clear at the top, it felt like this had a significance for more than the title race. It could be a launchpad for Palmer and maybe this Chelsea side, as they finally looked like a proper Mauricio Pochettino team.
They pressed and pushed City into a pulsating 4-4 draw, Pep Guardiola’s side doing their own part with some wondrous play.
There are a lot of issues with modern football, and it felt like this whole week was dominated by talk of referees, but this game right at the end reminded why we watch. VAR was mercifully muted, not quite silent, but it would feel even more wrong to talk about it after a game like that.
This was really about the concentration of quality on show, particularly Reece James, Manuel Akanji, Rodri, Phil Foden, Erling Haaland and – perhaps above all – former City players Raheem Sterling and Palmer.
Sterling might well have finished upstaged by Palmer, but he won’t be too bothered about that, not with his goal and the way they clicked together. There is something there. It felt symbolic that all of Chelsea’s front three – including the burgeoning Nicolas Jackson – scored.
They are a long way off City’s imperious level, but it is telling they have not yet lost to a big-six side. Chelsea beat Tottenham Hotspur on Monday and have now followed that and previous draws with Liverpool and Arsenal with perhaps the most significant of the lot.
It was, somewhat ironically given recent games, VAR that actually got things going. The match had started at a fast pace without too much happening, until the officials spotted some jostling between Haaland and Marc Cucurella. It looked like the both had as much a hold of each other, but the Chelsea defender hung on longer, resulting in a penalty. Haaland of course scored.
Cucurella was ruled to have fouled Haaland for the opening penalty
Perhaps aggravated, it fired something in Chelsea. What followed was probably their best spell of football of the season. That was partly driven by Sterling’s best spell in a Chelsea shirt, but there was more to it. There was certainly so much to Palmer.
It was like something finally clicked, with the attack rampant. Palmer was everywhere. The forward’s movement and touches were the perfect foil for Sterling’s running, which he often decorated with vintage tricks and nutmegs. Jeremy Doku, who could probably be described as Sterling’s long-term successor, was the victim of one flick through the legs.
The pressure first told from a corner, with Thiago Silva plundering a fine equaliser with a guided header. Chelsea were at that point overrunning City, literally, which led to Reece James surging down the right to set up Sterling for a finish he would have relished.
Former City players Sterling and Palmer were outstanding against Guardiola’s side
As good as Chelsea were, and as deserving as their lead was, they soon faced a dilemma.
The issue with facing this City and getting the better of them is that you only have a certain amount of time until Guardiola figures it out and decisively changes it to reassert control.
It felt like that had happened by the hour. City had already equalised before half-time through a brilliant Akanji header, capping a fine individual game. It could have been a lot worse for City had the centre-half not been so dominant, as Ruben Dias had an unusually erratic display. Akanji’s presence made it all the more surprising he was left unmarked.
City led three times at Stamford Bridge but were held
For the third goal, then, City just made their own space. Phil Foden paused on the ball to allow Julian Alvarez to burst from deep, the overlap then allowing Haaland to sneak in on the other side.
It wasn’t the cleanest finish, but it was still artful forward play due to the quality of the run. VAR checked for half-time, but it would have been ludicrous to rule it out.
Chelsea, for their part, kept persevering. This is where more encouragement could come from the display.
They again gave Dias trouble, as the centre-half found himself caught out from a parried shot, allowing Jackson to equalise.
Palmer was again making so much happen, enjoying the freedom that Pochettino affords him.
If it feels remarkable that City let an academy player like that go, it only speaks to their strength in depth. The next goal suitably came from way back. Rodri took a shot from distance on 86 minutes, and the ball deflected into the net.
There was still more in the game, though. Pochettino has instilled something in Chelsea. They kept going, and forced Dias into another rash moment.
Palmer settled an eight-goal thriller
Palmer stepped up, You could have forgiven him for feeling some nerves. Ederson would have faced him a lot in training. Palmer made all that irrelevant, as he showed no nerves at all.
It is obviously too early to say Chelsea are back. Palmer, however, is here.
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