News Live Scores
Manchester City

Man City's rising star Palmer showing why Guardiola was happy to let Torres leave for Barcelona

4:00 AM EST 1/11/22
Cole Palmer Manchester City 2021-22
The teenager's starring role against Swindon in the FA Cup highlighted the attributes that mark him out as being ideal for Pep Guardiola's system

There were a number of factors that led to Manchester City accepting Barcelona’s €55 million (£47m/$62m) bid for Ferran Torres just before Christmas.

The Spain international had not settled particularly well in Manchester during the coronavirus pandemic, he was struggling to compete for a regular starting place, and once Barca had declared their interest in signing him in early December, Torres had his heart set on a move to the Catalan giants.

And while City knew keeping Torres against his wishes was not a good idea, they were also convinced that selling him mid-season would not damage their hunt for silverware by the emergence of homegrown attacker Cole Palmer, who has shown this season that he has the potential to be an even better fit in Pep Guardiola’s system than the ex-Valencia man.

Torres' main success at City came when he was deployed as a central striker, but it was clear that there was unlikely to be a long-term future for him there, despite the Premier League champions' failed pursuit of Harry Kane in the summer of 2021.

Guardiola is still keen to add a No.9 to his squad in the coming months, and as such Torres would more than likely have found himself back in his more natural position on one of the flanks.

Ironically, however, he played more as an English-style winger at a time when City have moved to a European template of control and movement from their wide forwards, rather than utilising the pace and direct running that define Torres' game.

Whoever starts in Guardiola’s front five is expected to be a technically gifted and intelligent footballer who knows what to do to break down stubborn opponents.

And despite being just 19, Palmer has shown he has both the talent and speed of thought to fit in with his team-mates when he has been given the opportunity.

No more so was that made clear than in Friday’s 4-1 win over Swindon Town in the FA Cup, when Palmer set up the opener for Bernardo Silva with a brilliant assist before smashing in the fourth goal himself.

The first goal was a perfect example of what Guardiola requires, as the teenager showed superb individual skill to trick his way past the Swindon full-back before laying on a simple tap-in for Bernardo, showcasing a clear understanding of where his team-mates were expected to be.

“I've had the pleasure to work with him and see the quality he possesses,” said England Under-21s assistant coach Ashley Cole, who was covering the game for ITV.

“He's a very intelligent winger that likes to come off the lines. He's got a bright future. He's on that pathway to the senior team hopefully.”

Opportunities will be crucial if Palmer is to progress and eventually represent the Three Lions. He has played for England at various age groups since he was a schoolboy, and is now a regular starter for an U21s side that has already seen Emile Smith Rowe and Conor Gallagher earn promotions to Gareth Southgate's senior squad.

Playing for his country is helping Palmer to keep his number of competitive minutes high as he strives to become a regular in Guardiola’s side. The victory over Swindon was his 11th appearance of the season, but just his fourth start, with a total of 413 first-team minutes across five competitions to his name so far in 2021-22.

After identifying his potential, City have followed a similar method to the way they integrated Palmer's fellow academy graduate Phil Foden. That involves training permanently with the first team, grabbing the occasional minutes as a substitute and starting the odd game, predominantly in cup competitions.

It can be a frustratingly slow process for observers and some players, and others have decieded that they would rather take a faster-track to first-team football. Foden does not regret showing patience, though Manchester United’s Jadon Sancho and Barca’s Eric Garcia are likely happy with the alternative routes they took when opportunities were scarce at the Etihad Stadium.

An easing in Covid-19 restrictions this season has also made it easier for players such as Palmer to move between the senior squad and the U23s, which was stopped at the height of the pandemic.

He has made seven starts for City's Elite Development squad this season, including the 5-0 victory over Leicester City where he scored a hat-trick on the same day he was a late substitute for the first team in their Premier League win over Burnley.

Playing in those two games was decision taken by Guardiola, EDS coach Brian Barry-Murphy and Palmer himself, underlining his enthusiasm and desire to keep improving.

England internationals Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling and John Stones have, meanwhile, made him feel welcome in the first-team environment, and that has given the Wythenshawe native confidence to show his talent when chances arise.

“When I first moved up to the first team I obviously thought, ‘wow, I am playing with the likes of [Kevin] De Bruyne’ and players like that,” he said following Friday's Man-of-the-Match winning display.

“I wouldn't say it was normal, but I am getting used to it every day, training with them and playing with them when I get minutes. I am enjoying it.

“They all make me feel at home every day when I go in. It is not just on the pitch, but off the pitch as well. They all give me advice, tell me what to do and what not to do, so I really enjoy it.”

No one is under any illusions how difficult it is to make it at City. Against Swindon, a Covid outbreak meant they were without seven first-team players as well as 16 backroom staff, but Palmer still lined up alongside 10 full internationals.

Guardiola himself was affected, but is likely to be back in the dugout for Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash with Chelsea and, if they can stabilise the outbreak, so will much of his first team.

But the City boss will have no issues with throwing Palmer into his starting line-up if the virus cuts down his options.

"He obviously is a huge talent, that is no secret to anybody,” said Guardiola’s assistant Rodolfo Borrell, who took charge against Swindon.

“It’s about being patient, keep working hard, because you still have to work hard and then, when you have these kind of opportunities to show the talent that he is. He needs to show that on a consistent basis when he has the chance to perform.

“But obviously a huge, huge quality and great potential and great for us as a club. And for him as a player.”