Chelsea has not been elevated by Cole Palmer, he has only kept them on par

Chelsea still sits in 11th place after 27 league games, one place lower than they were after playing the same number of games last season. The title may make you want to get out the pitchforks, but give me the next five minutes, then get out the pitchforks, if you still want to. 
Chelsea FC v Leicester City - Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final
Chelsea FC v Leicester City - Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Cole Palmer is, by far, Chelsea’s brightest light this season. Yes, half of his goals have been penalties, but every penalty Palmer has not taken this season has resulted in a miss, except one, in all competitions. 

The argument is ongoing as to whether Cole Palmer has elevated Chelsea, and where they would be without him this season, but the answer to that is not as straightforward as imagining the team with someone else other than Palmer in Palmer’s position. 

If you look at it that way, Chelsea would of course be much worse off without him, because he has scored 11 goals and assisted eight times, so if you remove those 19 league goals plus assists from a team, the team drops down the table instantly. 

However, if you consider that, while Chelsea has relied so much on Palmer, they have had to do that because of the decisions they made in the transfer window, you see that Palmer is doing just enough to keep Mauricio Pochettino’s men performing as they were last season. 

It’s like if you flush $2,000 down the toilet, you’re not richer when someone gives you $2,200 as a gift, because the gift is replacing money that you lost, so it’s closer to zero-sum.

Why would you flush $2,000 down the toilet? Exactly.

The forwards at the club last season have all left either permanently or on loan, except Raheem Sterling, who many say should leave as well. 

Palmer’s performances in and off themselves, have done well to replace what the Blues lost when they stripped the team of all the forwards that played last season, so Chelsea’s team numbers are mostly identical between this season and the last, down to shot creating actions and passes into the final third. 

However when you consider that Chelsea’s is coming from their worst season in 19 years, you see why needing someone to keep them on par with that season signifies abysmally poor squad building.

The major difference between the 2022/23 Chelsea and the 2023/24 one is in the attacking numbers, and even that is identical in several, major ways. 

“You can’t compare them!! What are you talking about?!!!” you may say, but can’t we? 

According to FBRef, Chelsea took 12.7 shots per game last season, ranking some around midtable. This season they are averaging 12.9 shots per game, also ranking midtable. 

The major difference is in the goals scored, as the Blues scored just one goal per game last season, scoring exactly 38 goals in 38 games in the league. This season, they are averaging 1.74 goals per game, having already scored 47 league goals this season in 27 games. 

Chelsea is also getting 57% more big chances this season, compared to last season. In the 2022/23 season, the west London side got 1.9 big chances per game, this season, they are getting three big chances per game, according to Sofascore

None of these drastic improvements can be traced directly to Palmer. For one, he has not won any of the penalties for which he has scored, while Sterling has won three out of six penalties that Chelsea has been awarded this season. 

Palmer has averaged 1.9 chances created per 90 minutes (per90), which is more than Sterling’s 1.6 from last season, where Chelsea mostly relied on him in that department, as he created the most chances per90 when compared to other players that played over 1368 league minutes for the club. 

Palmer has led Chelsea in big chances too, but his big chance contribution in and of itself cannot explain why Chelsea went from 1.9 to 3.0. 

Last season, Hakim Ziyech created 0.33 big chances per game and 0.83 big chances per90, but he only played 630 minutes, meaning that Chelsea could not enjoy his chance creation expertise much. This season Palmer has created 0.38 big chances per game and 0.46 big chances per 90. 

I break down Chelsea’s 2023/24 big chance creation and conversion here

Chelsea players combined for 12.7 shots per game last season, and have combined for 12.9 shots per game this season, so everything Palmer is doing now, was being handled by another player last season. 

It is difficult to quantify Palmer’s actual contributions to the team this season, compared to the corresponding contribution of Chelsea’s key player last season, because it is a completely different set of players. 

Nicolas Jackson has been extremely influential for Chelsea this season, and he has been influential in several more departments than Palmer, when you consider pressing, ball retention, build-up, chance creation, goals and assists. 

Palmer has stood out in some areas, like shot creation and passing into the penalty area. He has averaged 2.75 passes into the penalty area per90 this season, and while Ziyech averaged 2.6 last season, he didn’t play much, so Chelsea had to rely on a number of other players like Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling and Enzo Fernandez. 

Chelsea’s numbers this season suggests that the club would have been better off keeping some of the players from last season, and adding Palmer to that. Palmer is an excellent ball striker, and an extremely intelligent player, but Chelsea has not really improved, as they are still struggling with many of the same things they were struggling with last season, and because of that, they have ultimately remained in the same spot.