‘Decisive player of the season’: Guardiola and City wary of Palmer

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Cole Palmer;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Cole Palmer</a>’s former manager Pep Guardiola says ‘I didn’t give the minutes that maybe he deserved and now he has at <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Chelsea;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Chelsea</a>’.</span><span>Photograph: Javier García/Shutterstock</span>

Pep Guardiola has described Cole Palmer as the “decisive player of the season” and said Manchester City must find a way of negating him in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea. Guardiola also revealed that Palmer asked to leave City for two seasons before making his £42m move to west London in September.

Palmer joined City at under-eight level and made 19 appearances for the club across three years before leaving for Chelsea, and having scored for City in their Community Shield defeat to Arsenal in August, as well as in their European Super Cup victory over Sevilla that followed 10 days later. He will line up against last season’s treble winners as the Premier League joint-top scorer with 20 goals, alongside Erling Haaland, who is a doubt for the semi-final.

Related: Guardiola wants City to shrug off Real exit – Chelsea might be in the crossfire

Wednesday’s penalty shootout defeat to Real Madrid ended City’s hopes of claiming a double-treble, yet they remain on course to become the first English club to win consecutive Doubles. To do that, however, ­Guardiola has warned, they must deal properly with Chelsea, who have drawn with them twice this season, and ­specifically Palmer.

“My advice [is] why are we not focusing on Chelsea? It’s enough of a target to think about it,” ­Guardiola said. “With one game left in the ­Premier League, or if we are in the [Cup] final: now I can answer you perfectly. Chelsea we felt twice how strong they are. The weapons they have upfront – Cole is the decisive player of the season. We travel, [try to] win that game and see what happens.

“It’s unlucky to think about the double-Double – you ask me [previously] about the treble and what happens after that? For the problems we have this season, injuries for some players, [finding] rhythm for our new players: I couldn’t expect to be in this position.”

Guardiola was asked if City made an error in allowing Palmer to leave. “I don’t know. He’s an exceptional player who was here,” he said. “I said many times, I didn’t give the minutes that maybe he deserved and now he has at Chelsea – I understand completely. He’s a shy guy with a lot of potential. It is what it is. He’s playing fantastic so what can I say, the decision has been made for many reasons.

“He was asking for two seasons to leave and I said stay. He said he wanted to leave. What could we do? I said stay because Riyad [Mahrez] is gone [last summer] but for two ­seasons he wanted to leave. Playing at that level that he has is exceptional.”

Part of City’s willingness to sell Palmer was down to concerns that he did not fit into Guardiola’s system. But Mauricio Pochettino has given little thought to whether the England international has to become better without the ball.

“It’s difficult to say to a guy that has scored 25 goals [in all competitions]: ‘Oh, you need to run more,’ because he’s doing perfectly his job in an offensive situation,” Chelsea’s head coach said. “But it’s true we are a coaching staff that we always demand more – ‘Yes you score, but you need to work. Yes, you score, but you need to run when we don’t have the ball.’ But he’s doing well.”

All of Palmer’s goals in 2024 have come at Stamford Bridge. The next opportunity for him to change this comes at Wembley and is followed by Chelsea’s trips to Arsenal and Aston Villa in the league.

“That is one of the areas he needs to improve,” Pochettino said. “We have a great opportunity for him to change that, we have three games away from Stamford Bridge. The team is really well connected at Stamford Bridge and we are playing good games there.

“Maybe in the past there were better results away from home and now we are doing good here. Maybe the performances are better in 2024 at home than away from home and that is why it’s helping him to score more goals at Stamford Bridge.”

Reports in Argentina have claimed that Enzo Fernández, who missed Chelsea’s 6-0 win over Everton, is playing with a hernia and could need surgery at the end of the season. “It is true that in the past he suffered some problems there but he is dealing really well with the situation,” Pochettino said of the midfielder. “We need to protect him because he is a young guy and the present is important but so is the future.”

Pochettino was asked if Fernández deserved praise for fighting through the pain. “That is a tricky situation because the most important thing is he ready to perform at his best,” he said. “We don’t want heroes. We want players that can perform in their best way.”