Football Features

Cole Palmer: Man City’s “mistake” gets Chelsea over the line against Fulham but questions about their attack rise again

By Harry Edwards

Published: 15:01, 13 January 2024

Cole Palmer was once again the man of the moment for Chelsea as they continued their winning league run with victory over Fulham.

Chelsea went into this London derby on a bit of a downer, having lost 1-0 to Middlesbrough in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final on Tuesday. That brought an end to their three-match winning streak across all competitions, and some of the good feeling around Stamford Bridge, particularly after Mauricio Pochettino spoke positively of the performance.

But there was a record to preserve in Saturday’s early kick-off. Chelsea were unbeaten in their last 18 home league games against Fulham, since a 1-0 loss in the second tier in October 1979. Pochettino had also won all five of his previous Premier League meetings with Fulham, only having a better 100% record in the competition against Hull City (six wins from six).

In the first half, Chelsea enjoyed more possession than their visitors, and had more chances, but they weren’t really making the most of them. Although the Blues had nine shots, only two of those hit the target, with Bernd Leno not really tested.

Fulham arguably had the best chance of the opening 45 minutes, as Harry Wilson arrived at the far post to get onto the end of Antonee Robinson’s cross, but the Welshman’s shot was saved. It looked as though we’d be on our way to another draw at half-time for Chelsea, with 15 of their opening 20 Premier League games this season being level at the break.

But, in the closing stages of the first half, Chelsea were awarded a penalty. It came as a result of good play between Palmer and Raheem Sterling, and the latter was fouled by Issa Diop. That was the third penalty Sterling has won in the Premier League this season and the 26th overall in his career, at least three more than anyone else. Palmer stepped up to take it and there was no other outcome than him scoring.

Palmer has now taken five penalties in the Premier League for Chelsea this season, scoring on each occasion. It took his total league tally for the campaign to nine, more than any other Chelsea player. He’s also just the second player to hit that mark in a single Premier League campaign for Chelsea aged 21 or younger, joining Christian Pulisic (2019/20) in that exclusive club. Pulisic’s season ended on nine goals too, so Palmer just needs one more to take the record outright. Palmer is also just the third different Chelsea player to score at least five penalties in a single Premier League season, after Frank Lampard (five in 2012/13 and 10 in 2009/10) and Jorginho (six in 2021/22 and seven in 2020/21).

“He got me and Joe (Cole) off our chairs today. He was exciting, he’s great to watch,” Peter Crouch said on TNT Sports’ coverage of the match.

“I love the way when he brings the ball forward, he’s always scanning the pitch. He’s a player that looks beyond his years.”

Cole added: “You can’t fault Manchester City, they don’t make mistakes. But I think they have on this occasion. This young man’s come here and already, when you walk up the Fulham Road, you talk to Chelsea fans, ‘who are you asking to come and watch’, like Crouchy said, you want to come and watch him.


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“They’re used to that this club, they’ve seen great players over the years, they excite them and get them off their seats. Cole Palmer’s going to be a massive, massive player for this club.”

So, Chelsea were ahead at half-time for just the sixth time in the Premier League this season, winning four and drawing one of the previous five. They were also unbeaten in their last 18 Premier League matches while leading at the break, since a 3-2 defeat to West Ham in December 2021. At home, Chelsea had lost just two of their last 201 Premier League games when leading at the break, losing to Arsenal in 2008 and 2011.

Blues fans will have been hoping for Chelsea to build on that, but unfortunately they set themselves up for a nervy end, being toothless in front of goal. It took Chelsea until the 90th minute for Chelsea to have their first and only shot on target in the second half, but Noni Madueke’s effort didn’t test Leno enough.

In total, had eight shots in the second half and 30 touches in the opposition box. But, there were so many occasions on which they had promising attacks come to nothing whether that was due to players dwindling on the ball for too long or poor passes. It’s been a running theme for Chelsea this season, with the Blues hitting the target with 49.76% of their shots. While that is around the middle of the table, when you add Expected Goals context to it, it makes for tough reading.

Chelsea have the second highest xG in the Premier League this season at 41.99, but they have only scored 35 goals. Only Brentford (-7.85) and Manchester United (-7.34) have a worse xG to goal difference in the Premier League this season than Chelsea’s -6.99.

Fulham looked more likely to equalise than Chelsea did to get their second, and the Cottagers went very close in the dying stages but the Blues eventually scrambled clear from a set piece. It means Chelsea have won three Premier League games in a row for the first time since October 2022, and four on the bounce at home in the competition for the first time since July 2020 when Frank Lampard was in charge.

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