Talking Tactics

Why Foden and Palmer have the shared qualities to be decisive

By Adrian Clarke 15 Feb 2024

Adrian Clarke highlights the similarities between the former team-mates as Man City host Chelsea

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Player analysis - Phil Foden (Man City) & Cole Palmer (Chelsea)

Calm, adaptable, intelligent and technically outstanding, Foden and Palmer have both kicked on to enjoy tremendous Premier League campaigns.

The former Man City team-mates have been directly involved in a combined 31 goals already, producing a selection of impressive goals and assists.

They are both playing well enough to influence the outcome of Saturday's Etihad Stadium encounter.

Foden and Palmer have a number of shared qualities. Indeed, it could be argued that their similarity was a problem for Palmer at Man City, limiting his first-team opportunities and contributing to his departure to Chelsea. 

Foden v Palmer comparison chart

Both players offer their respective head coaches the option to use them as a "false nine", but we have mainly seen the two English talents in wide areas this season.

From there, they both like to drive infield at opportune moments to make telling contributions.

Asking them to occupy relatively undefined positions works well when their team are in possession, as they are each superb at making well-timed runs between defenders.

Foden v Palmer comparison
2023/24 Foden Palmer
Distance/90 (km) 11.72 11.05
Top speed (km/h) 32.68 32.87
Sprints/90 17.49 13.21
Off-ball runs/90 32.66 23.78
Targeted off-ball runs/90 8.07 6.10
Off-ball runs into box/90 9.86 5.50
Targeted off-ball runs into box/90 2.32 1.14

Foden, two years Palmer’s senior, is the more prolific off-the-ball runner and is targeted with greater regularity by his Man City team-mates.

Yet they both see space with equal clarity, wanting to burst into those holes to hurt the opposition.

Palmer’s goals against Luton Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers highlighted his eye for optimising space and making penetrative runs.

Palmer's second goal v Luton
Palmer's run before scoring v Wolves
Palmer v Wolves

Whenever Chelsea get in and around the final third against Man City, the 21-year-old will try to pierce City's rearguard.

Foden also has this skillset and is in sensational form right now.

Adept at arriving late in the penalty area, his purposeful run to latch onto Jeremy Doku’s slipped through-ball against AFC Bournemouth was a prime example of City using his quality to great effect.


Five of Palmer’s 10 Premier League goals have arrived from the penalty spot, so it is Foden who leads the goal count in general play, by eight to five.

Both have scored tap-ins when attacking space on the edge of the six-yard box too. Smelling opportunities, they share natural strikers’ instincts.

Finding the right pass

Foden has claimed seven assists, one more than Palmer's six so far, but in a creative capacity there is little to separate them.


In the context of this match, it's likely that either one of the duo will supply an assist - six of Foden’s seven assists have arrived on home turf, while five of Palmer’s six have come on Chelsea’s travels.

They even lay on very similar types of goals.

In Chelsea’s 3-1 success at Crystal Palace on Monday, summer signing Palmer made a great run in behind Tyrick Mitchell before steadying himself to pull a pass back to the onrushing Conor Gallagher.

Palmer's assist for Gallagher v Crystal Palace

That assist is nearly identical to the one where Foden teed up for Rodri in City’s 3-1 home win over Burnley on 31 January.

Foden sprinted beyond the last man, composed himself and looked up before cutting the same type of pass back to Rodri to curl home.

Foden's assist for Rodri v Burnley

A sign of Palmer’s rapid progress since leaving Man City for Stamford Bridge can be seen in this data comparison with Foden.

Despite playing for a Chelsea side languishing in midtable, he is almost level with Foden in most key attacking categories.

In addition, Palmer's finishing has been more clinical, and he produces a greater number of through-balls, and feeds passes or crosses into the box a more frequently than Foden.

Attacking stats compared per 90
2023/24 Foden Palmer
Shots 2.97 2.85
Chances created in open play 1.93 1.91
Chance-creating ball carries 1.88 1.79
Touches in opp. box 5.85 4.18
Passes played into box 3.82 6.27
Through-balls 0.58 1.14
Shot conversion % 21.62 28.57

Mauricio Pochettino must be thrilled with how quickly Palmer has adapted to his new surroundings.

He is integral to the Blues’ chances of success.

A pair of super-cool left-footers

Foden’s excellent glancing header at Brentford earlier this month was his only goal this season that hasn't been scored with his left foot.

Palmer also favours his left foot, but an excellent drive with his right in the 4-2 home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers served as a reminder that he is not solely reliant on it.

The duo are also cool under pressure, which is especially helpful when the biggest matches and moments come around.

Do not be surprised to see either of these two gifted attacking midfielders make the difference with a piece of magic in this much-anticipated encounter.

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