He produced a sparkling showing on prime time Friday terrestrial television, yet the most memorable part of Cole Palmer’s night in Swindon looks like it will be his post-match interview.
After a superb assist for Bernardo Silva to open the scoring and an emphatic strike into the top corner completed Manchester City’s 4-1 FA Cup third-round win over their League Two opponents, Palmer spoke to ITV about scoring his maiden goal in the competition.
He’s also opened his Champions League account this season and scored on his England Under-21 debut.
Understandably, the 19-year-old thinks it is a matter of time until he makes a similar impact in the Premier League and told interviewer Gabriel Clarke as much in economical fashion.
“I’m delighted. Prem soon come.”
It was one of those priceless moments when an interview instantly goes viral. It’s a meme, a gif and a phrase City fans are throwing all over social media. It’s already on a t-shirt.
But a week from now, it could prove prophetic.
Palmer impressed on respective Carabao Cup and Premier League starts as a false nine against West Ham and Everton earlier in the season, but the Swindon game was his first full outing on the right-wing.
It is a position from which he has become the standout star of a talent-stacked EDS generation at City.
On his assist for Bernardo, he chopped back onto his weaker right foot to deliver a killer cross. Palmer catches defenders in two minds in those situations because he is capable of cutting inside onto his left and thumping an emphatic finish into the top corner.
He did just that to close the show at the County Ground and his two goal involvements were moments Riyad Mahrez would be proud to call his own.
Mahrez is on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Algeria right now and there is no better like-for-like replacement in the City squad than Palmer.
Palmer slotted home decisively as City overcame their longtime youth rivals
Of course, Pep Guardiola does tend to favour experienced operators where possible — as evidenced by the 10 full internationals who lined up alongside Palmer in Wiltshire — but the Covid-19 situation around the City Football Academy right now means there can be no great certainty who might be available for next weekend’s game against Chelsea.
They are a club Palmer knows very well indeed. He set up James McAtee’s goal before dispatching the winner in a 3-2 FA Youth Cup final triumph over the Londoners in 2020, giving City the latest round of bragging rights in a rivalry that has defined age-group football in England for more than a decade.
Raheem Sterling was one of seven first-team absentees against Swindon but, fitness permitting, the England star’s current form means he should be expected to slot back in against Chelsea.
Phil Foden, despite a stop-start season, is in the same boat. One of the reasons Foden is a guiding light for academy graduates like Palmer is the way he thrives on the big occasion. If the Stockport-born player is fit for a game that could effectively knock a title rival out of the Premier League race, he will play.
The third place in Guardiola’s front three to face Chelsea feels very much up for grabs.
Gabriel Jesus netted the winner at Stamford Bridge in September but has, remarkably, failed to score in the Premier League since.
The tireless Brazil forward showed his best and worst sides against Swindon; dispatching a tidy finish after the hosts failed to break the City press he leads so impressively, before failing with a hilariously tame penalty attempt.
Cole Palmer’s Phil Foden moment can be springboard for Man City career
Jack Grealish’s performances for City so far have been placed under an unduly harsh glare, but he has not yet done enough to be a lock-in for the biggest fixtures.
Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva sharing false-nine duties feels like the most plausible outcome with Foden and Sterling either side, again fitness permitting. But Palmer represents a tantalising option and Guardiola might plump for a young star on the crest of a wave.
Remember Foden’s surprise start and winner in crunch clash with Tottenham in April 2019? Let’s not rule out Palmer getting the chance to produce something similar.
Prem soon come? Maybe a lot sooner than you think.
Even if Manchester City didn’t have a Covid crisis, Cole Palmer would have surely started at Swindon in the FA Cup.
This season, he’s scored his first goal for City in the Carabao Cup, netted in the Champions League and made his Premier League debut (before scoring a hat-trick for the under-23s in the same day). He’s been a regular in first-team training, and in recent weeks he’s been a fixture on the bench with increasing appearances off the bench.
A start at a League Two side in the cup was a logical next step, with Palmer able to show what he’s learned this season from his increasing responsibility in the first team.
And boy did he take that chance, earning all the post-match attention after his fine assist and lovely solo goal late on to bookend a brilliant performance.
This was his best performance for the first team to date, combining his undoubted talent and technique with an extra maturity he’s maybe lacked before. For the first time, he was appearing on a par with the rest of City’s world-class senior players.
The likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva were all looking to Palmer to be their creative output on the right. They would give him the ball in tricky situations and make runs with the expectation that Palmer made the right decision with possession.
Cole Palmer sends message to Pep Guardiola after Man City goal at Swindon
There were no players giving him a safe option to return the ball to, which may have happened in previous appearances. This time, they treated Palmer as one of them, confident after working with him in training that he was able to do something positive rather than simply keep possession.
In fairness, Palmer was comfortably the best player on the pitch when City’s under-23s beat League Two side Scunthorpe earlier this season in the EFL Trophy, so he will have been confident against their fourth tier rivals on Friday night. Swindon tried to target Palmer as the most inexperienced City player, but soon realised that was a futile task as he danced past his full-back and gave Bernardo Silva the easiest of finish.
Palmer was praised by stand-in boss Rodolfo Borrell after the game, who urged him to continue developing and taking his chance, before comparing him to Phil Foden as a player who has risen from the academy to become a first team player.
While Borrell was keen not to encourage too many comparisons to Foden, there are certainly similarities with their introduction to Guardiola’s first team. And after some encouraging cameos here and there, Foden announced himself to the football world in a similar game as the Swindon trip on Friday.
In September 2018, Foden started at Oxford of League One in the Carabao Cup, and got one assist in a tense first half, before capping off a big performance with a well-taken goal late on to kill the game. After that, with the confidence of finally proving he can be a key creative player for City from the start, Foden kicked on and has never looked back.
Palmer took the same approach – almost to the letter – from his clever assist, to confident solo goal, and even to the joyous celebration infront of the travelling fans.
Foden used Oxford as his springboard, and Palmer will hope to do the same. Encouragingly, he was keen to repeat the fact that he is fully aware he must do his talking in every training session and every minute he gets on the pitch if he wants to build on his Swindon performance.
In that sense, nothing has changed. However he can walk onto the training pitch next time knowing his teammates now trust him implicitly to be City’s latest creative option in attack. He is clearly a confident lad, but he can now refer back to his maturing performance in Wiltshire as a reminder that he does belong in this team of world-class forwards.
If he listens to his own advice in his post-match interview, as well as Borrell’s, he can be sure that more chances will come with less time between cameos. After matching a key milestone in Foden’s development this week, he will be confident that he can continue the academy production line into Guardiola’s squad of regular options in attack.
Man City player ratings as Cole Palmer lights up FA Cup win
Zack Steffen Almost handed Swindon a route back into the game with a mishit pass to McKirdy but had little to do – 6
Kyle Walker Very rusty after a month#s lat-off, and that showed in his touch, passing and defending – 5
Ruben Dias In cruise control, and that was enough to contain a willing but limited Robins attack – 7
Nathan Ake Had a couple of frantic moments, but nothing he couldn’t deal with – good run-out in his regular role – 6
Joao Cancelo Didn’t have to bust a gut to produce anything special, and got a bit sloppy when City were in control – 6
Rodri Clamped down on the centre of the park early on and never let that dominance slip. 7
Ilkay Gundogan Fabulous free-kick technique for the third goal, and his usual intelligent game was at the heart of a comfortable win – 7
Kevin de Bruyne Simple assist as he was gifted the ball, but he cruised through the rest if the game in third gear. It was enough – 7
Bernardo Silva Simple finish for him, and he was able to curb his usual insatiable workrate and still dominate the final third – 7
Gabriel Jesus Neat finish for the second goal, but his penalty was absolutely woeful after he had won the spot kick – 7
Cole Palmer Wonderful skills to create the opening goal, and an attractive display was capped by the best goal of the night – 8
James McAtee (for De Bruyne 66) Couple of nice moments – 7
Romeo Lavia (for Gundogan 82) No time to mark
Luke Mbete (for Ake 85) No time to mark
Kayky (for Palmer 85) No time to mark
Not used: Carson, Slicker, Laporte, Bobb, Egan-Riley