Just in – How Cole Palmer and Christopher Nkunku can save Chelsea’s season

Just in – How Cole Palmer and Christopher Nkunku can save Chelsea’s season

It hasn’t been long but Cole Palmer is already entirely undroppable and indispensable to Chelsea. His arrival into the team has already led to an upturn in goals and results with the one exception being against Brentford and even there he was a standout player.

It is a testament to Palmer, someone with extremely limited experience for a 21-year-old as highly rated as he is, that he has already made such a big impact. Compared to some of the other signings not just from under Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital but also the final years of Roman Abramovich’s regime and there is quite the contrast.

Palmer, for example, already has more assists than Joao Felix managed in his six-month loan spell at Chelsea. That number is only one but demonstrates the differing styles and immediate effect that Palmer has had. He has scored twice – though both are from the spot – but registered 2.0 xA which is already four times more than Felix managed in half the amount of minutes.

When the former City starlet arrived there was understandable questioning of how he fits into the wider squad make-up given the sheer volume of wingers signed over 12 months but unlike others, he has made himself essential to the side. Mauricio Pochettino only said last week that Palmer was playing like someone who had been at the club for 10 years and he is getting the reception equivalent to this.

Stamford Bridge has already stood to applaud Palmer off the field twice and that is saying something for a fanbase also so entrenched in the club’s struggles that simply scoring a goal is a source of immense satisfaction. The bar is a low one but Palmer is both raising the floor and the ceiling of this team He is making his teammates look better – though the often wayward finishing does little to show that tangibly – whilst also being a genuine star already.

In terms of quality, there is no direct comparison here but the effect he has over a stadium when he gets the ball in the attacking areas or even from a deep position is similar to that of Juan Mata. There’s something in the left-footedness of the pair, cutting in from the right and finding teammates in space they didn’t know they had.

These are extremely early days for Palmer and it would be over the top to say much more than these are mere comparisons based off vibes and feeling rather than weight of evidence, but his start has been strong and there was a touch of Eden Hazard-like reliance on him against Brentford and it was an undoubted shame to see his performance wasted in a defeat.

Luckily in the months to come he should be able to share the load. Christopher Nkunku is expected to be back in the mix in December and although that comes after the toughest run of games in the season it will be a massive boost. The Frenchman is someone who has already shown he can recover from injury quickly and not let it define his season, finishing as top scorer in the Bundesliga last year despite missing over three months.

The good thing for Nkunku, which will also be a good thing for Palmer, is that they will be able to lean on each other. Nkunku’s star power alone will take some of the burden and attention away from his new teammate and stopping the pair of them will prove a tough ask, especially if Pochettino can find a way to work one of Raheem Sterling or Mykhailo Mudryk into the side as well.

This pairing in particular, though, look perfectly suited to play together. Palmer initially looked to be signed as someone to fill in at the No.10 spot after Nkunku and Carney Chukwuemeka saw the starts of their season derailed by injury but he has now proven to be much more than just an attacking midfielder.

Trained by Pep Guardiola and as part of the talented England youth set-up that relies on and promotes versatility and flexibility, Palmer is just as much a right-winger as he is a shadow striker, false nine of player in the hole. It allows him to drift into areas across the field regardless of starting position whilst also being an active presser when the ball is lost as well.


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