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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Cole Palmer elevates Chelsea to his own level and gives Mauricio Pochettino some relief

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Football

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In fairness, the numbers had the appearance of a forward whose team was at the top of the table. Cole Palmer led Erling Haaland, Mohamed Salah, Ollie Watkins and Heung-min Son. And for Chelsea, an end-to-end 3-2 win over Newcastle cemented their position at the top of the Premier League’s bottom half. Though the most important result, as Chelsea moved one point behind Eddie Howe’s side, was for Mauricio Pochettino. As the Chelsea manager returned to Stamford Bridge under pressure, the home fans were rather more forgiving than the away supporters were at Brentford last week.

With Pochettino desperately needing a win, it was no surprise who stood up and delivered at Stamford Bridge. Under the eye of England manager Gareth Southgate, Palmer scored for the fifth home game in a row in the Premier League, elevating a mid-table clash to take his total to 11 for the season. A typically cutting run from the right brought a thumping finish into the bottom corner, after Nicolas Jackson’s smart flick guided a trickling shot from Palmer past Martin Dubravka to give Chelsea a first-half lead.

When Palmer scores, he often creates as well. And vice-versa. The 21-year-old has now scored and assisted in the same game five times this season, more than any other player.

And in a fixture between two teams with billionaire owners, seemingly endless reserves of either finance or capital, it was the £40m bargain from Manchester City who once again looked a level above.

That said, Mykhailo Mudryk offered a much-needed reminder of his own potential after a devastating flicker of feet brought Chelsea’s third. It gave Chelsea enough of a cushion to withstand Jacob Murphy’s late consolation.

It clinched the win and Palmer was brought off to a standing ovation. He had spent the majority of the game twisting the giant Dan Burn’s long legs together with his elegant movement, only to put Newcastle away with a clinical touch. It brought some quality to a contest that until then had been marked by mistakes; Chelsea had ceded control and conceded a sloppy equaliser, even if Alexander Isak provided an excellent finish. Though Newcastle, who were without a clean sheet away from home in 10 in the Premier League, always looked like conceding more. Howe’s side continue to ship goals at an alarming rate, unrecognisable from last season.

Palmer scored from outside the box

(Reuters)

But Chelsea also showed spirit and Palmer steered Pochettino’s side back on course. Undoubtedly, Southgate would have been impressed as the England manager prepares to name his latest squad on Thursday. Palmer shone while Anthony Gordon hobbled off injured midway through the first half, and Raheem Sterling was quiet until wasting a one-on-one with Dubravka. Tino Livramento’s adventurous runs helped to drag Newcastle into the contest and he could yet be an answer to Southgate’s sudden lack of right-backs.

Southgate has more than just an exciting talent on his hands with Palmer. He had looked to have given Chelsea the lead inside six minutes before a second look provided the real identity of the scorer: Jackson’s smart flick took Palmer’s goal-bound drive past Dubravka.

Jackson backheeled in the first goal

(Reuters)

Like with most of Newcastle’s defensive issues this season, the problem was not confined to the back four: Sven Botman’s clearance from Malo Gusto’s low cross was poor but Gordon was found to be absent as Gusto routinely overlapped down the right wing and attacked the ambling Burn.

Chelsea then continued a recent trend and lost their way, ceding control. While Jackson shot at Dubravka and Enzo Fernandez curled over, following bursts from Sterling and Palmer, the sustained pressure at the end of the half came from Newcastle.

But the help came from Chelsea, tellingly from Fernandez and Moises Caicedo, though a handful shared the blame. As exquisite as Isak’s equalising goal was, Chelsea ultimately paid for the sloppiness of their possession, punished following a succession of errors. Fernandez’s ambitious switch from his own corner was compounded by Gusto attempting to flick the ball back over his head, following Caicedo’s poor control. After Trevoh Chalobah’s heavy touch and Axel Disasi allowing Isak onto his left foot, the striker produced a moment of class to guide a finish inside the far post from 20 yards. No wonder Pochettino slapped his knee and howled on the touchline.

Isak levelled before half-time

(Reuters)

The pattern of Chelsea’s season would have seen Newcastle take the lead, as Brentford did last weekend, and Wolves had done the last time they played at home in the Premier League. There were chances: Miguel Almiron whacked a shot that was tipped over by Petrovic, then Bruno Guimaraes whipped an inviting cross that dipped wide of the far post, needing an attacker to arrive.

But a defence that had conceded four on their last visit to London at Arsenal never looked secure. Burn’s shanked clearance by his corner flag led to Palmer’s latest drifting run from the right wing and the Newcastle full-back’s legs were everywhere except where they needed to be, as Palmer’s shot slipped between them and slammed into the corner, beating Dubravka at his near post.  Palmer continued to show a deadly eye that evaded Sterling. Sent through on goal moments later, Sterling stopped short of Dubravka, took a touch to his right, but saw his shot blocked on the line by the recovering Burn, who had somewhat made amends.

With the match still in the balance, Mudryk gave Newcastle no way back, though Murphy’s thumping finish had sparked some late hope in the away end. The Ukraine winger almost marked his Chelsea debut at Anfield last year with an instinctive solo run, but a lack of end product has instead typified his first year in England. But after a flash of feet and a swift nutmeg of Fabian Schar, Mudryk produced a finish after dancing past Dubravka. Finally, some relief for Pochettino, as Palmer, the star of this new Chelsea, led his manager away from trouble for a week at least.

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