News broke yesterday of a long-term injury to our centre back stalwart Mamadou Sakho.
A niggling knee complaint seems to have resulted in a much bigger problem. Tests have concluded that he will need to undergo surgery as soon as possible and that is a major blow to the palace defence which is now missing Kelly, Souare, Wan-Bissaka and now Sakho.
Luckily both Kelly and AWB are expected back in a matter of weeks as they have muscular strains. But it looks like Hodgson will have to call upon reinforcements if the side are to continue the recent resurgence in form which has seen us lose just twice in ten games, keeping five clean sheets in the process.
The recent success has largely been built upon a platform of solid defending. Not only that but also the confidence to play the ball out from the back. The style of play - “Hodgeball” TM - has paved the way for our midfield to build attacks and release space for our attackers by drawing the press from the opponent. Sucking them into our half and then counter attacking at pace has been a common tactic deployed for us this season and that all flows through Sakho.
He is the deep lying quarter back, but he doesn’t look for the Hollywood 50 yard cross field passes like Sir Damien Delaney (legend). He is willing to take risks by playing ground passes through the lines. Taking a more direct route down the centre of the pitch rather than feeding the full backs like a CB would do traditionally. He wouldn’t come into criticism for “getting rid” and clearing the lines but his experience and quality is defined by this part of his game.
Having played as a defender myself it’s definitely a case of just passing the problem to someone else when clearing/hoofing the ball downfield hopefully - but in truth it’s simply giving the ball away. Yes you gain territory, but you often lose the ball and in turn you lose momentum. Sakho is the only player we have capable of this style and he is also the only left footed CB in our squad, meaning anyone filling in will be consistently expected to play with the ball on their weaker foot. Yes we have some good cover in this area, but not many will deny this is a serious blow to not only our league ambitions but the chance to progress in the FA Cup.
Let’s look at the options we have in pecking order.
Definitely better aerially but error prone. Has excellent distribution over longer distance passing but isn’t comfortable dribbling or receiving the ball under pressure. Adds a serious threat attacking set pieces and pops up with a goal or two.
Becoming somewhat of a cult hero at selhurst. Recently penning a new contract extension and although currently injured he seems to put in a MOTM performance every time he plays. Which begs the question - what more can he do to get in the first 11? His slide tackles go on for longer than Ariston. Rumour has it he covers one side of his body in olive oil before matches. Ever reliable, composed and strong competitor. Not many complain when his name is on the team sheet.
A lifelong palace fan, graduated from the academy and playing well in the U23s by all accounts. A big lad, tall and heavy set almost like Slabhead Maguire. I don’t want to go against the grain here, but it may be a bit too soon for Woods. Another injury or two and Roy’s hand may be forced to call upon the youngster. I think he could have done with a loan move to be honest, Woods wouldn’t look out of place at Forest?
Often DMs are asked to do a job at CB. It makes sense when they have qualities to play that role. We did this for a few games with Jedinak and Funtime Frankie De Boer also pushed Luka back into a CB trio (that turned out well didn’t it?). I’d rather not adopt this “Sunday league” mentality and stick to playing players in their best position.
Palace have had a tough run of injuries again this season but for once have seemingly managed to weather the storm through our quality in-depth and mostly versatile squad. When we lacked a striker, Wilf and Andros have stepped up. When AWB has missed games, Ward has been solid. We have three/maybe four pretty decent keepers, plenty of midfield combinations to choose from and now also 3 fit strikers all vying for one spot. The squad has never been so strong. Yes this is a major blow but it’s not catastrophic - we have evolved now into a side where we don’t rely on individuals anymore, not even Wilf. Palace have built a team now greater than the sum of our parts so let’s wish Mamadou a speedy recovery and support whoever is asked to do that job now.