Palace’s Sakho capable of both brilliance and moments of madness

A moment of madness helped settle Bournemouth’s clash with Crystal Palace on Monday night. The scores were locked at 1-1 as the clock ticked into the 86th minute at the Vitality Stadium, with the hosts on top having been on the back foot for much of the second half.

Referee Mike Dean delayed the taking of a Bournemouth free-kick to warn several players from both sides about pushing and shoving in the 18-yard box, before pointing to the penalty spot when Mamadou Sakho elbowed Jefferson Lerma once the ball had been swung into the area. Junior Stanislas made no mistake from 12 yards, beating Wayne Hennessey down the middle to give the Cherries a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish in the closing stages.

At first glance it looked as if Sakho had been unfortunate; rather than deliberately trying to hurt his opponent, it seemed as if the Frenchman had inadvertently caught Lerma while instinctively reaching out to get his bearings. On second viewing, though, it was clear that this was a moment of madness from Sakho, who ultimately cost his team a point they probably deserved after a much-improved performance after the break.

The 28-year-old has, for the most part, been an excellent player for Palace. Initially signed on a four-month loan deal from Liverpool on the final day of the transfer window in January 2017, Sakho made only eight Premier League appearances for Sam Allardyce’s side but was so exceptional in those games that he was nominated for the club’s Player of the Year award. The Eagles then paid an initial fee of £24m to land the centre-back on a permanent basis the following summer, after which Sakho played exactly half of the club’s league matches as they secured an 11th-place finish under Roy Hodgson.

Mamadou Sakho

Standing at 6ft 2in and with a well-built frame, Sakho’s physicality is the first thing you notice about him. He is certainly capable of outmuscling opposition strikers, but his best attribute is his ability to pick out passes from the back. The former France international may look a little clumsy and cumbersome, but his distribution is excellent and it is that quality which makes him the ideal centre-back partner for the more old-fashioned, no-nonsense James Tomkins (Monday’s defeat by Bournemouth, incidentally, was only the second of 19 games Palace have lost when Tomkins and Sakho have started together at the back).

The problem, though, is that Sakho’s positive attributes can be undermined by lapses in concentration and poor decision-making. His composure in possession is largely a positive, but the ex-Liverpool man sometimes takes things too far in dangerous areas of the pitch; moreover, he has a tendency to switch off at vital moments which can prove costly against top-quality opposition forwards.

“He feels aggrieved,” Hodgson said of his centre-back after Monday’s encounter, which leaves 13th-placed Palace with seven points from their first seven games of the campaign. “We are used, in football, when you give a penalty away it’s because you’ve deliberately stopped a player scoring a goal. But not with an unintentional collision.

“Mamadou Sakho has no intention to elbow the player or use an elbow to stop the player getting to the ball. I can’t deny that, when you see it on the television, he does catch the player and as a result the referee is quite within his rights to give the penalty.

“It’s always frustrating losing to a needless free-kick given away [by Alexander Sorloth, just before the spot-kick], and then to a penalty. Especially after doing so well, first of all, to get over the shock start and wonder goal Brooks scored, and then get ourselves on to an even keel and on the front foot in the second half, showing a lot of initiative. We paid a high price for the mistakes we made and we end up with nothing to show for our efforts.”

Sakho is, for the most part, an excellent defender, as demonstrated by his combined 309 appearances for Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and the France national team. Yet for all his qualities he is prone to too many moments of madness, and that is the reason why he now finds himself plying his trade for a lower mid-table Premier League side.

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