Familiar face leading charge for Chelsea at Manchester City

Cole Palmer returns to his old stomping ground as Chelsea look to put a dent on City's hopes of winning an unprecedented fourth league title in a row

Published : 17 Feb 2024, 06:13 AM
Updated : 17 Feb 2024, 06:13 AM

Cole Palmer will try to play the spoiler against his former club when Chelsea visit three-time defending Premier League champions Manchester City in Saturday's late kickoff.

City (16-3-4, 52 points) will begin the weekend in second place in the league, two points behind Liverpool and ahead of Arsenal on the second tiebreak of goals scored.

And while the Cityzens have won nine in a row in all competitions -- while welcoming the return of attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne from a long-term injury and leading scorer Erling Haaland from a shorter ailment -- if they can't overtake their title challengers they may wonder what difference Palmer could have made.

The 21-year-old has 10 goals and six assists in the league since his transfer from City to Chelsea (10-10-4, 34 points) at the close of the primary transfer window, including seven goal involvements in his last five league games.

And when the attacker scorers, a Chelsea team that has weathered inconsistency throughout the season typically wins. They're 5-2-2 when he has a goal.

"He's not this type of player that needs to prove nothing," Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino said of Palmer's return to his former club, where he struggled to find playing time. "He is very grateful for his period at Manchester City. He left the club because he wanted to find another challenge or have the possibility to play more."

But even with Palmer's precocious consistency, Pochettino has yet to see his team go more than three games in a row unbeaten in league play. And on their travels in particular, they haven't defended well enough to consistently pick up points, conceding multiple goals in seven of 12 league fixtures.

Even so, they've also proven capable of competing with the best, having held all of the current top three sides to draws when they visited Stamford Bridge earlier this season.

Their 4-4 draw with City back in November could be a candidate for game of the season, as the Blues twice overcame a goal deficit in the second half, with Palmer's penalty deep in second-half stoppage time sealing a share of the points.

Much like Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp two weekends ago -- before the Reds' 4-1 win over Chelsea -- City boss Pep Guardiola is predicting big things for the London club soon.

"They are an exceptional team in all departments," Guardiola insisted. "It is one of the toughest games we have until the end of season. They are playing really good."