On the feel and functionality of Cole Palmer

A lot of changes have occurred at Chelsea Football Club over the past eighteen months. Ownership has changed. Coaches have been fired and hired more than once. The change of ownership has triggered an exodus of players, which in turn has led to an influx of players. To put it simply, Chelsea is rebuilding after a turbulent period that culminated with the Londoners finishing a disappointing 12th in the Premier League last season.

What is clear from the club’s recent transfer dealings is that the new ownership has placed a premium on youth in the rebuilding process. Eight of the 12 players Chelsea signed in the summer transfer window were 22 or younger, and before that, in the winter transfer window last January, even the first-team signings were all under 22. Mauricio Pochettino, a manager with a track record of nurturing young players in prior roles, was handed over the reins at Stamford Bridge in May, and Chelsea had a strong preseason, winning three of their five games and drawing the other two.

The first game back in the Premier League for Chelsea, even if in west London, could not have come against tougher opposition than Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. It would end in a 1-1 stalemate. But in all honesty, Chelsea were the overall better team, and generated a higher xG. An encouraging performance for a team that had six players making their first official appearance for the club.

Chelsea would lose 3-1 at West Ham, defeat Luton Town 3-0 at home, and win 2-1 against Wimbledon in the EFL Cup in the games that followed. After that, they failed to win or even score in their next three games to begin September…until Cole Palmer was named to the starting lineup against Brighton in the EFL Cup third round. Palmer, a £40 million deadline day addition from Manchester City, was making his fourth appearance and first start for the club. 

Chelsea Football Club, Cole Palmer, Premier League, Manchester City, football, Mauricio Pochettino, Stamford Bridge
Artwork by Charbak Dipta


Back in August, the rumours of Chelsea’s interest in Palmer came quite out of the blue, and the transfer was finalised in the space of three days after that news first broke! I must admit that I had some reservations about the signing. But I wasn’t by myself. Like me, a lot of Chelsea fans weren’t really convinced about the signing for one reason or another.

Personally, I was not sold on Palmer because I believed that Chelsea needed to prioritise adding a more experienced player to supplement a squad already filled with young and generally unproven players at the highest level. Palmer had made just 41 senior appearances for Manchester City in three years, most of them as second-half substitutes. His Premier League experience at City was a mere 490 minutes (equivalent to less than five and a half full matches) which was spread across nineteen matches. By no means was this enough of a sample size to draw any firm conclusions about the extent of his talent.

I also didn’t think Palmer was the right player to help Chelsea with their most pressing issue, aka their inability to convert chances into goals. Palmer’s biggest strength isn’t scoring goals, based on the little we saw from his time in Manchester (6 goals in 41 games). His play style appeared to be that of a playmaker at first glance; yet given that we did not see all that much of him at City, it was difficult for me to visualise how he could greatly improve the Chelsea team right away.

Two months later, I am brazenly saying that I’ve never been so glad to have been proven wrong.


Cole Palmer has not particularly solved Chelsea’s goals problems; notwithstanding, he has been a revelation. From a more macro perspective, his integration has galvanised the team, and Chelsea have appeared far more dynamic in the attacking third with him on the pitch. The preliminary piece of evidence is the match versus Brighton towards the tail end of September in the League Cup.

Heading into that encounter, Chelsea faced the unnerving possibility of ending the month of September without scoring in any of their four matches. 1-0 home losses to Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa, and a goalless draw with Bournemouth between, had created a gloomy atmosphere around the club. Palmer, deployed as the central attacking midfielder in Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 formation, was at the center of everything the club did well offensively that night. He capped off a bright individual performance by setting up the game’s only goal in the 50th minute.

A fine team move resulted in Palmer threading the ball to the unmarked Nicholas Jackson inside the box through the legs of Brighton’s Jan Paul Van Hecke. Jackson did the rest to give Chelsea the lead. And, for obvious reasons, there was a sense of relief all around Stamford Bridge after that.

“That’s a big win for us,” said Palmer in his post-game presser. “I think it’s somewhat of a relief, especially off the back of some poor results, to get the victory. We’ve shown tonight, against a very good side, what we are all about, and we just need to build on this performance now and hopefully get some more wins.”

Indeed, with Palmer playing in the thick of the action, the team has built upon that performance, having gone on to string five wins, two draws and two losses in the following run of games. In that stretch, Chelsea have scored twenty-two goals, with Palmer being directly involved in seven of them (4 goals and 3 assists).

All four of his goals have come from the penalty spot, but the fact that Palmer has stepped up to the plate to take penalty duties in such a short time with the team speaks volumes of his character and serves as evidence of his self-confidence. It is also important to mention that each of those penalties has either given Chelsea the lead or tied the game, and (most) have come in high-profile games under duress.

Against Burnley at Turf Moor, Raheem Sterling was hauled down inside the box shortly after the restart. It presented Chelsea with the chance to take a 2-1 lead. Cole Palmer stepped up and sent James Trafford the wrong way to give Chelsea the lead. It was his first goal for the club and also his first in the Premier League. The Blues would go on to win 4-1. Palmer’s second goal came in the following game, the London derby clash against Arsenal. His strike from 12 yards out broke the deadlock in an eventual 2-2 draw. He scored his third in another London derby, this time against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Palmer’s 35th-minute penalty leveled the game before Chelsea went on to score three more unanswered goals in one of the Premier League’s wildest games yet this season. His fourth goal, a 95th-minute strike from the spot to tie the game at 4-4 against his former team before the international break, further demonstrates his mental fortitude. He received his first senior national team call-up thereafter and has since gone on to make his debut with The Three Lions.


On the surface, Palmer’s four goals and four assists in nine starts present well, but you run the risk of missing what makes him special if you reduce his game to his direct influence on the scoreboard. Watching him play a game in its entirety lets you understand how he functions within the team context. You begin to see all the different ways he impacts play with his feel and understanding of the game, which is especially rare for a 21 year old.

So far, Palmer is averaging 6.92 progressive passes and 4.87 final third passes per 90 minutes in the league this season (stats from fbref). Out of all the Chelsea players, only Enzo Fernandez averages higher numbers. Palmer is also generating the most shot-creating actions (4.10) and supplying the most key passes (2.05) on the team. Aside from his great usage of the ball, his effort level when Chelsea are out of possession is also commendable. Palmer has won possession 13 times in the attacking third, which is the third highest in the team.


The current Chelsea team is loaded with young (and mostly raw) talents, but Palmer looks more complete, more refined. In a way, he functions as the team’s connective tissue that links the midfield and the attack. This is something that Pochettino agrees on.

“He’s a player that understands the game, uses the half positions very well, and is very good in between the lines to create confusion for the opponent,” Pochettino remarked after the game against Manchester City.

“He always gives options to play and find the free man. As a player, he’s like this playmaker that connects the team and makes the team play better.”

Palmer’s decision to leave his boyhood club for Chelsea was, by his own admission, to have an opportunity to prove himself. Thus far, he has managed to do that, and there’s been no reason to think he wouldn’t get even better—he is just beginning to scratch the surface of his capabilities while forming part of a youthful, hungry squad that, in a year or two from now, will look to compete for the biggest prizes football has to offer.

As of this moment, Chelsea finds themselves tenth spot in the Premier League table nearly halfway through the 2023-24 season. That is far from where they would like to be by the end of the season. If the team is to achieve their goals for this season and transition into a competing side down the line, odds are solid that Cole Palmer will be a critical piece to the puzzle because he possesses the talent that makes him stand out, the unique feel of the game that cannot be taught, and the room for development to become even better and do a lot of good things for Chelsea Football Club.

Jerry Okugbe

Jerry has a passion for playing football and writing about the beautiful game, among many other interests.