Cole Palmer delivers last-gasp dagger to his former club as injury-time penalty earns a point after pulsating clash.
The pressure was enormous, the weather was awful and then the goalkeeper, a quite recent team-mate, went the right way. But none of that seemed to mean anything to Chelsea’s Cole Palmer. His penalty kick in the 95th minute was struck so purely and so true at Stamford Bridge that nothing was ever likely to keep it out.
And so the latest line in the remarkable short story of a 21-year-old midfield player was written. This was about a vital point for his new club – the second big result against an important rival in the space of a week. Additionally, it was about much more than that.
Palmer was until late summer, a City player. And then, very suddenly, they sold him to Chelsea where he has quickly established himself as not only the London club’s best player but also someone who England manager Gareth Southgate is talking about. Rarely has a young player flourished so vibrantly so suddenly.
City manager Pep Guardiola sounded a little grumpy about the whole thing when asked about it last Friday. He had promised Palmer game time this season, he claimed.
But what Guardiola will feel after watching Palmer write his name all over this game is doubtless a whole heap of real irritation. But also maybe, when all that fades, some faint pride, too.
Palmer is, after all, one of City’s own. A Mancunian, he had been at the club since he was six-years-old. When they choose to fly is it too much to ask to wish them well?
Here Palmer played a fascinating and at times quite beautiful role in what may well be the most intoxicating game of his young career. This was, after all, only his ninth Premier League start, six for Chelsea and three for City.
Meanwhile, Mauricio Pochettino ended the afternoon screaming in the face of fourth official Craig Pawson. It is unclear what sense of entitlement it is that gives our managers the confidence to behave like that.
In terms of the football, though, the Argentinean will take much from this. More than anybody, he will not be surprised at what he witnessed Palmer deliver for him.
It is not for nothing that he keeps picking him. Furthermore, this penalty was the third of three big ones scored by Palmer already this season. The others were against Arsenal last month and, more recently, the equaliser as Chelsea came from behind to win at Tottenham last week.
Big game nerves are not a problem for Palmer, then. If Pochettino had a few more like him then progress may come more quickly but at least now the new Chelsea manager can tell himself with some conviction that his team is moving in the right direction. For a while, it really didn’t look like that.
Here, Chelsea were behind early and they were unfortunate. Erling Haaland and his marker Marc Cucurella both seemed to have a piece of each other as a cross arrived at the far post midway through an open first half but for some reason it was the defender who was punished. VAR had a look but didn’t intervene and Haaland rolled in yet another goal from 12 yards.
Chelsea were well in the game and were dangerous on the counter. They looked too open, though, and it was hard not to fear for them. In the face of all that, they lead within ten minutes.
Thiago Silva scored with a header from a corner as his marker Haaland was blocked. By Palmer, as it happens. Then Reece James benefitted from a bounce from Jasko Gvardiol’s heels to cross for Raheem Sterling to score at the far post. The initial pass towards James? It came from Palmer. Of course it did.
Chelsea don’t often beat big teams in the league. We know this. Last Monday’s win at Spurs was their first against top opposition since January 2022. So the psychological hurdle remains significant for them and for a while here it once again appeared a little too great.
City’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time came from the head of central defender Manuel Aakanji. It was a bad one, defensively.
The Swiss defender was unmarked seven yards out and then goalkeeper Robert Sanchez slipped and fell. Never a good combination.
Pegged back at half-time, Chelsea were behind soon after.
Haaland began a neat move with a smart turn and lay off and when the ball was funneled through Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez, a low cross to the back post was bundled in by a part of a sliding Haaland’s anatomy that has probably never been used to score a goal before.
VAR then checked for handball which was strange to say the least.
City don’t often chuck leads away. Certainly not three times in one game.
But as the rain washed in blinding torrents across the Bridge, the champions just could not take a definitive grip on this game.
Nicolas Jackson’s fourth goal in a week – after his hat-trick against nine-men Spurs – brought the Chelsea support to the boil once more with 23 minutes left. City goalkeeper Ederson parried a low drive from Conor Gallagher and Jackson applied a deft touch to control the ball and then had the presence of mind to calmly role it in to the net. It was a real striker’s goal.
That in itself would have been a decent redemptive tale of a struggling player come good. But when Rodri’s shot flew in off the foot of Silva in the 86th minute, a goal that seemed set to win the game served only to set up Palmer for something a great deal more notable.
Ruben Dias may wish he had been calmer when sliding in to Chelsea substitute Armando Broja in the 95th minute. He may wish he had shown a little of Palmer’s subsequent poise.
Palmer says he doesn’t practice penalties, incidentally. From what we have seen of him so far, that sounds entirely believable.