Chelsea would be in a relegation battle without Cole Palmer as Pochettino reaches new nadir

Will Ford
Cole Palmer Chelsea
Cole Palmer scored two but Chelsea could only manage a point against Burnley.

Chelsea conceded two goals to ten-man Burnley at Stamford Bridge in a new low for Mauricio Pochettino, who would be long gone with his side in a relegation battle were it not for Cole Palmer.

Burnley had given as good as they’d got up until a hugely contentious decision which saw Chelsea given a penalty, Lorenz Assignon shown a second yellow card and Vincent Kompany also given his marching orders for what were his entirely reasonable complaints.

Mykhaylo Mudryk took a heavy touch and lost the ball, but went down in the box with Assignon’s arm on his shoulder. The Chelsea players barely appealed and the Stamford Bridge cheers were mixed with titters of disbelief as the referee pointed to the spot, further chuckles when Assignon was shown the second yellow and genuine laughs as Kompany was sent to the stands.

It was hard not to consider a Big Club bias in that moment, before Cole Palmer rubbed salt in the wounds with an absurdly confident panenka penalty after a lengthy wait to take it. It should have been plain sailing from then on, but this is Chelsea.

Josh Cullen scored a stunning equaliser soon after the break, combining with substitute Josh Brownhill on the edge of the box before volleying into the corner, thus turning the game into an exercise of Chelsea attempting to break down a low block. As is so often the case in such circumstances, even when on this occasion faced with the second-worst defence in the Premier League, they really struggled.

They had plenty of possession and Arijanet Muric was forced into a few decent saves, but it was hardly backs-against-the-wall stuff for Burnley, who could actually have been ahead through Lyle Foster’s header and defended reasonably comfortably until Palmer once again came up trumps for Chelsea.

Raheem Sterling flicked the ball beautifully into his path before Palmer rolled it home. Again, it should have been plain sailing from there.

But Burnley switched into attacking mode without any opposition and Dara O’Shea scored from a corner. The Chelsea defending was non- existent, as was the case six minutes later when Jay Rodriguez rattled the bar. Burnley scored two, and should have scored at least three when down to ten men at Stamford Bridge.

Mauricio Pochettino claimed ahead of this game that Chelsea “should be fourth” according to the stats, but this game – like so many this season – showed their vulnerability in defence and their reliance on one player in attack.

Recent reports have claimed Chelsea may have to sell Palmer to comply with FFP regulations, which is a sorry state of affairs. If that is indeed a reality the club faces as a result of its ludicrous mismanagement, there would have to be big changes besides – with Pochettino surely among those necessary changes – because Palmer is to Chelsea what Wifried Zaha was to Crystal Palace or what Ivan Toney is to Brentford: the only man standing in the way of his team getting relegated. At this rate he’ll be pushing for the exit.

If you ignore Palmer’s influence on Chelsea’s attack in general – which is more significant than anyone else in the team – and assume his only contributions have been either when scoring or assisting a goal, the Blues would still have 14 fewer points this season. They would be level on points with Brentford in 15th; four points above the relegation zone.

Not that we have the data, nor the inclination to use it as a stat if we did, but we would guess Palmer’s also had plenty of pre-assists, and even when he’s not touched the ball in the build-up has had a significant role to play given opposition sides presumably recognise him as the only guy in the Chelsea team they need stop to beat them.

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There’s a chance Mudryk, Nicholas Jackson or Sterling might do something, but in all likelihood they’ll bungle opportunities as they did on Saturday, while the midfield parts to grant time and space for any team with the merest of attacking threats to get at, and ultimately penetrate, a defence which inevitably features one centre-back having a shocker. It was Benoit Badiashile against Burnley, but it was Axel Disasi against Leicester and it will be Trevoh Chalobah or one of the other mediocre options Pochettino has to call upon next week.

The Chelsea manager can blame inexperience, and will, but that’s not close to an excuse weighty enough to explain drawing at home to – let’s face it – a bang average ten-man Burnley side, who would have beaten Chelsea were it not for the guy who has papered over the cracks time and again this season.