Premier League hits and misses: Cole Palmer offers Chelsea hope for 2024

Premier League hits and misses: Cole Palmer offers Chelsea hope for 2024


Cole Palmer emerges as one of the few bright points of Chelsea’s season, while Wolves end 2023 with a swagger as Everton’s tactical tweak backfires…

Palmer pitching to be Chelsea’s main man in 2024

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League clash between Luton and Chelsea.

Unlike so many of Chelsea’s recent signings, Cole Palmer has outperformed all expectations since arriving from Manchester City – even leading Mauricio Pochettino to compare him to Angel Di Maria.

Palmer may have some way to go before he’s matching the World Cup winner, but at Luton, he showed yet again why he is already one of Chelsea’s most important players.

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James Cole and Ron Walker discuss Chelsea’s win at Luton, the positives for Mauricio Pochettino, their potential January business and Luton’s hopes of staying up

The 21-year-old’s rasping first goal demonstrated his power, while his second – set up by two wonderful touches – showed his creativity.

Palmer now has eight Premier League goals this season. The last player to score more for Chelsea was Mason Mount (11) two seasons ago – and Palmer has 18 games in which to overhaul that total.

The England international has also scored and assisted in the same game on fourth occasions in 2023/24. Only two other Chelsea players – Mount and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – have bettered that feat in a single campaign this century.

Palmer has been one of the rare bright spots for Chelsea this year – and his influence will surely only increase as Pochettino’s side bid to bounce back in 2024.
Joe Shread

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How long will INEOS put up with this woeful Man Utd?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Nottingham Forest’s win against Manchester United in the Premier League.

Sir Dave Brailsford’s presence in stands for Man Utd’s turnaround against Aston Villa and the defeat at Nottingham Forest is a signal of the shift taking place at Old Trafford. He’s already been to as many games as the Glazers attended last season.

A more involved ownership group, at least the one in charge of football operations, can only be a good thing for United. For Erik ten Hag, though, it could be bad news. There’s been a stasis above the Dutchman this season that’s protected him from greater pressure.

The more Brailsford sees first-hand the scale of the task on INEOS’ hands, the harder it will become to stick with the manager. Neville says Ten Hag should be allowed to see out the season and given the conditions he’s had to work in that feels appropriate.

Sir Dave Brailsford is Sir Jim Ratcliffe' right-hand man in sporting matters
Sir Dave Brailsford is Sir Jim Ratcliffe’ right-hand man in sporting matters

  • Report & highlights: Nottm Forest 2-1 Man Utd
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

There is, however, a limit to the amount of damage a manager’s reputation can take – inside and outside the dressing room – before something must give, regardless of the circumstances. Ten Hag has already lost 14 games this season.

The manager blames the horrific injury run that has ravaged his squad since early in the season, preventing him fielding the same team in back-to-back games. The true test of Ten Hag will be after the New Year when his core players return.

If results don’t pick up quickly after that, Ten Hag could be in trouble. It wouldn’t be the first time new owners have looked to bring in their own man. There’ll be a motivation at INEOS to be the ones that hand-picked the coach to finally restore United to former glories.
Zinny Boswell

Luton can stay up – but only if they’re ruthless

You don’t get anything for playing well in the Premier League. If you did, Luton would have a case to be outside the relegation zone instead of teetering just inside it, wondering what might have been.

Rob Edwards called the 3-2 defeat to Chelsea a game of “what ifs”. It’s not the only one at Kenilworth Road – look back at a last-minute defeat to Arsenal, Liverpool’s injury-time equaliser, even Man City’s second-half comeback to win.

There was never quite the same jeopardy here, with Luton trailing from the 12th minute, but they still played well enough to earn a point and show no signs of losing the momentum that fuelled their unlikely ascent to the Premier League in the first place.

  • Luton 2-3 Chelsea – Report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

This even may have had the most character of those results. But that alone won’t keep them up either.

It was not until the Hatters were 3-0 down that they really looked like hurting Chelsea, with every ball into the area turning from defensive heading practice into a potential goal.

Someone with that priceless ruthless finishing ability may be the difference between staying up and going down.

Do they have that in the squad already? They ended up dwarfing Chelsea’s xG, 2.66 to 1.48, but couldn’t make it count. So maybe that means a dip into the January transfer window instead.

Edwards is desperate to avoid upsetting the balance of his squad but he may have to make the hard choice of whether to risk bringing in a new face to a tight-knit group over the next four weeks.

Games like the Chelsea loss won’t, in theory, be what determines Luton’s fate. But matches where they have been hard done-by are starting to add up. And eventually, they will run out of opportunities to get what they deserve.
Ron Walker

Will Pep keep Foden as a No 10 when Haaland returns?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League clash between Manchester City and Sheffield United.

Man City once again had to do without injured top-scorer Erling Haaland against Sheffield United, meaning another opportunity for Phil Foden to play in his favoured No 10 role – and for the second game in a row, the forward delivered a man-of-the-match display in a dominant win for the champions.

  • Man City 2-0 Sheff Utd – report & highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

As in Wednesday night’s 3-1 victory at Everton, the twinkle-toed Foden was at the heart of everything City did well, setting up both of the hosts’ goals at the Etihad, while also being unlucky not to get on the scoresheet as he did at Goodison Park.

Most impressive of all was the 23-year-old’s inch-perfect ball across the six-yard box for a back-post tap in for Julian Alvarez to end the match as a contest, meaning manager Pep Guardiola now has a dilemma of whether to keep the England international in this role when Haaland returns from injury.
Richard Morgan

Six touches in 80 minutes – how City can strangle you

Andre Brooks had just six touches in 80 minutes
Andre Brooks had just six touches in 80 minutes

Playing football is supposed to be fun. Try telling Sheffield United’s Andre Brooks that after his 80 minutes of action vs Manchester City. He chased shadows. So many shadows. City enjoyed almost 82 per cent possession, racking up 938 successful passes which is the second-most on record in a Premier League game (since 2003-04), behind their own record of 942 against Swansea City in April 2018.

Scary numbers made even scarier when you consider Brooks’ output. He made one successful pass. Just one from three passes attempted. Overall, he had just six touches of the ball in 80 minutes of football. Rodri had 177 touches and made 154 successful passes – yup, 153 more passes than Brooks managed. Brooks’ touches tally was the fewest by a Premier League player playing at least 80 minutes since Hameur Bouazza for Watford against Wigan in September 2006 (six touches in 85 minutes).

Playing against Manchester City really isn’t much fun.
Lewis Jones

Villa must tighten up to surpass 2023 achievements

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa’s win against Burnley in the Premier League

What a memorable 2023 it has been for Aston Villa. The dramatic 3-2 win over Burnley means they have won more home games (17) and earned more home points (53) in the Premier League this calendar year than any other side.

It is red-hot form which has seen them mount a title challenge, with Unai Emery’s side sitting second and level on points with leaders Liverpool.

  • Aston Villa 3-2 Burnley – Report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

And with a Europa Conference League round of 16 tie to look forward to, Villa head into 2024 with plenty of hope and expectation.

But one New Year’s resolution Emery will be making is for his side to tighten up at the back.

Villa have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last five games in all competitions – and the two goals conceded against Burnley were preventable.

The visitor’s first equaliser came from poor defending at a simple set-piece, while Lyle Foster’s leveller came due to a malfunction of Villa’s high line.

The return of defender Pau Torres from an injury will be a big boost to resolving these issues, but Emery will want to work on tidying up a backline that has conceded five goals and 22 shots in their last two games.

If Emery can shore up his leaky side then 2024 could be even more successful than 2023.
Declan Olley

Cunha-inspired Wolves playing with a swagger

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Wolves’ win against Everton in the Premier League

Three games inside a week was a test for Wolves but Gary O’Neil’s side passed it in style, culminating in their most convincing performance of the season. This dominant display against Everton made it back-to-back three-goal wins. Relegation fears long gone.

Prior to Wednesday evening, all six of Wolves’ Premier League wins this season had been by the odd goal. This was different. There was a swagger to their play once the game had been taken away from Everton and it could have been more. A stunning end to 2023.

  • Wolves 3-0 Everton – Report and highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

O’Neil’s success has been characterised by tactical tweaks and subtle shifts of formation to counteract the opposition. Molineux will remember this for the flicks and tricks of Rayan Ait-Nouri, the one-touch interplay between Pablo Sarabia and Hee-Chan Hwang.

Matheus Cunha, setting up two goals and scoring the other, was the star. Getting the best from the Brazilian, Wolves’ record signing, is among the biggest of O’Neil’s triumphs. He appears to be enjoying his football. His potential is a reason to be excited.

With Pedro Neto also back, Wolves look upwardly mobile despite making a profit on player sales in the summer. Upon the final whistle, they are closer to sixth than the bottom eight. A season where consolidation was the aim is becoming something much more fun.
Adam Bate

Everton’s change in system backfires

Everton have lost three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since losing their first three this term. They’ve also conceded 3+ goals in back-to-back top-flight matches for the first time since December 2018.
Everton have lost three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since losing their first three this term. They’ve also conceded 3+ goals in back-to-back top-flight matches for the first time since December 2018.

Seasons can be defined by the Christmas period. At Molineux, two teams crossed each other heading in opposite directions. Wolves have taken nine points in seven days while Everton – faced with a dauting set of fixtures – claimed precisely nothing.

It’s three straight league defeats after four wins on the bounce but Sean Dyche made life harder for himself on Saturday. Already trailing 2-0, he and his assistant Ian Woan discussed what to do like they were trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube.

But it took until after Craig Dawson added a third for him to have away with his back three when it was clear from very early on that the change in system wasn’t working. It was as though he had set up in the hope of snatching a point from the first whistle.

  • Everton fixtures

The consistency from officials came under scrutiny in the setbacks at Tottenham and at home to Manchester City, but Dyche could have no complaints this time. No soft foul in the build-up to a disallowed goal. No confusion over the handball law.

This one was on him and his players. Make no mistake, Everton are still in an almighty dogfight, and the fixtures don’t get any easier. They must travel to London for their FA Cup third round tie with Crystal Palace on Thursday before games against Aston Villa and away to Fulham next month.

Several teams have looked out on their feet over this punishing schedule – and Everton are certainly one of them. This was a real off-day in terms of performance as their recent resurgence was punctured further. Everton have conceded eight goals in their last three Premier League games, as many as in their previous 10 games combined. Indeed, the Toffees had kept four consecutive clean sheets before this run. The wheels have come off.

Dyche will be concerned not only that his side might have conceded more but they didn’t look like scoring themselves. A case of back to the drawing board – and as you were down at the bottom.
Ben Grounds

Olise continues to shine as Crystal Palace’s attacking star

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League clash between Crystal Palace and Brentford.

It is sometimes hard to keep finding adjectives to describe just how talented Michael Olise is. It’s also hard to believe he has only just turned 22.

He now has five goals in seven Premier League starts this season and is the Eagles’ top scorer this season. You have to wonder just where his numbers – and Crystal Palace – would be if he had not been absent with a hamstring injury in the early part of the season.

  • Crystal Palace 3-1 Brentford – Report & highlights
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Olise is quickly becoming undroppable and at times unplayable. His mazy, solo run for his second and Crystal Palace’s third was a masterclass in movement, the identification and use of space as well as finishing.

Brentford did not heed the warning of a minute before when a similar run ended in a save from Mark Flekken.

Olise vs Brentford

Alongside his two goals, he also had the most shots (six, half of which were on target), touches in the opposition box (eight), dribbles (seven) and total duels (17) of the game. Brilliant numbers for a special player and with the more game time he is amassing, he is only getting better.

“He’s just Michael Olise,” manager Roy Hodgson said in his post-match press conference. “His performance was crucial in helping us to victory.”

A special mention too must go to Eberechi Eze for his well-constructed and well-taken goal. Crystal Palace have won 14 of their 16 Premier League games when Eze has scored.

Alongside Olise, the pair are vital to any Crystal Palace success to come in 2024.
Charlotte Marsh

Winter break most welcome for ailing Brentford

Thomas Frank undoubtedly has one of the safest jobs in football at Brentford, but even he must be feeling the pressure after his side closed the year with a comprehensive defeat at Selhurst Park.

His side sit four points above the relegation zone at the end of 2023, albeit with a game in hand, having collected just six points since the start of November. They have not kept a clean sheet since October 28 and have dropped an astonishing 20 points from winning positions already.

Talk of a relegation battle is gaining traction.

Against Crystal Palace, they failed to learn lessons from the chastening midweek defeat at home to Wolves and, once again, conceded from a cross to the back post, which is becoming a regular occurrence. Worryingly they offered little in attack again, aside from the moment substitute Neal Maupay from the bar from 20 yards during a late spell of pressure.

Of course, they have been ravaged by injuries throughout the campaign, but how much longer can that be used to mitigate their shortcomings?

The saving grace is that, by the time they play again in the league on January 20, Ivan Toney will be back from his eight-month suspension, while Ben Mee, Kristoffer Ajer and Josh Dasilva should also be back to bolster Frank’s ailing squad.

The winter break has arrived at the perfect time, but make no bones about it, reinforcements will be needed in the January transfer window.
Dan Long

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