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Cole Palmer’s Late Double Seals Chelsea’s Victory Over United

Palmer was the shining star, close to unplayable for most of the game, and it felt as though he was on a one-man mission to drag his team over the line. Because him aside, Chelsea had been fragile.

From joy to despair and now this, Manchester United has certainly showcased their addiction to drama in recent weeks; theirs is the story that keeps on giving. If the FA Cup victory over Liverpool had given their supporters a rosy glow for what felt like weeks, the nature of Saturday’s draw at Brentford was the definition of a reality check. In a crowded field, was it the worst performance of a chaotic season?

The latest installment was scarcely credible. Despair to joy and back again – hard – within one game, it felt like the death of their Premier League season; a ratcheting up of the pressure on Erik ten Hag, too, should there have been any further scope for that.

Chelsea’s delight ran wild at the very end and Mauricio Pochettino and his players will hope it proves a turning point for them. It was a wild ride from the start but let us focus on the end, on the eight minutes of stoppage time which would stretch even longer.

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Ten Hag had introduced Mason Mount from the substitutes’ bench and the former Chelsea midfielder was being jeered by the crowd that once adored him, but United were seeing out what looked set to be a classic 2-0 down, 3-2 up victory.

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The additional minutes were almost up when the Chelsea substitute Noni Madueke beat Diogo Dalot and made for a goal. Dalot slipped and when he went into the back of Madueke, it was a penalty, another penalty.

Cole Palmer had scored the first to put Chelsea 2-0 up, celebrating in front of the United fans who had taunted him with “City reject” jibes and there was never any doubt about him repeating the trick for 3-3. Which he did. There was more.

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United had almost rescued the shambles at Brentford when Mount put them 1-0 up in the sixth minute of stoppage time. And yet they would concede an equaliser that night on 99 minutes. We had played 11 minutes of additional time here when they conceded again. The switch-off on a quickly taken Enzo Fernández corner was total and there was Palmer – inevitably – to lash through a crowd, his hat-trick goal deflecting in off the United substitute Scott McTominay.

United had experienced a five-point swing against them after the 99th minute of back-to-back matches. It was ludicrous, especially as they had looked good here for long spells.

Palmer was the shining star, close to unplayable for most of the game, and it felt as though he was on a one-man mission to drag his team over the line. Because him aside, Chelsea had been fragile. With 16 league goals, Palmer is now the joint-second top scorer in the division. Another statistic. He was directly involved in 17 shots; he took nine himself and created eight others.

Palmer’s threat had extended to the shaping of Ten Hag’s lineup. Mindful of him, the United manager had asked Dalot to fill the problem position of left-back. But when Dalot was sucked inside and Kobbie Mainoo lost possession in the early running, Chelsea exploited the gap. When Malo Gusto crossed low, the ball came off Raphaël Varane’s heel and there was Conor Gallagher to sweep past André Onana. Casemiro was slow to get out to close him down.

Ten Hag had preferred Antony to Marcus Rashford at the outset, an eye-catching selection call. The manager said it was “rotation” with Sunday’s Old Trafford clash with Liverpool in mind.

Antony was a major positive and yet he made an error when he allowed Marc Cucurella in behind him before lunging into him. It was a soft penalty, the contact minimal. Palmer was not complaining.

Palmer tormented Dalot with his twinkle toes and gliding moves while Casemiro’s lack of mobility at the base of the United midfield was a major problem. Chelsea advertised a goal for 3-0, namely when Axel Disasi got in unmarked at the far post to meet a Gallagher free-kick. He headed wastefully off target.

Defensive fragility, though, was not the sole preserve of United and it was a horror moment from Moisés Caicedo that ushered the visitors back into it. After Antony, who did not let his head drop after the penalty, had done well to keep a Bruno Fernandes slice in play, Caicedo tried to go square to Benoît Badiashile and found only Alejandro Garnacho. He raced away to finish.

After Fernández had drawn a fine save out of Onana at the other end, United got back to 2-2. The Chelsea marking at the back post was non-existent and, when Dalot crossed, Fernandes guided his header home. It was wild, heavy on thrills and spills, and there was time before the interval for Gallagher to crash a shot against the near post after Casemiro had lost the ball and Palmer surged forward yet again.

United lost Varane to injury at the interval while his replacement, Jonny Evans, would be forced off after 66 minutes. With Lisandro Martínez and Victor Lindelöf already out, Willy Kambwala was called into the breach.

Palmer continued to radiate menace but United were dangerous on the counter; there were times when they ran through Chelsea with almost embarrassing ease. Harry Maguire blasted one shot high, Fernandes another when gloriously placed. Rasmus Højlund was denied by a Disasi challenge after more loose Chelsea passing. Casemiro headed high from a corner.

Palmer had extended Onana with a curler but it was United who looked the more likely scorers. And when they got themselves in front, shortly after Ten Hag had introduced Rashford for Højlund, it was all about the desire and ingenuity of Antony. The United attacker had won the ball to spark the break and it was his glorious outside-of-the-boot cross that teed up Garnacho to head past Djordje Petrovic on the bounce. Game over? Not a bit of it. This is United. This was Palmer, too.

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