How Bakary Sako Went From Bit-Part Player To Guaranteed Starter - And Top Scorer - At Crystal Palace
When Bakary Sako began his Crystal Palace career with two goals and an assist in his first two Premier League appearances in August 2015, there was reason to believe he could keep Yannick Bolasie out of the team for the foreseeable future. The Mali international’s productive start at Selhurst Park proved to be a false dawn, however, with Sako failing to either score or set up another top-flight goal until December 2017.
That effort had a degree of good fortune to it, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers winger seeing the ball ricochet off his leg and beat Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes after his initial shot had been saved by the Brazilian. Sako followed that up with a fine finish in the 3-0 win at Leicester City, before also netting with a brilliant strike in the defeat by Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup third round.
Those goals, together with his excellent all-round performance at the Amex Stadium, persuaded Roy Hodgson to include Sako in the starting XI for Saturday’s meeting with Burnley. The 29-year-old repaid his manager’s faith by netting the only goal of the game, a vicious left-footed finish which arrowed into the corner of Nick Pope’s net.
Deployed alongside Christian Benteke in a 4-4-2 formation, Sako also impressed with his off-the-ball movement. Not only has Benteke struggled for goals this term, he has never been the type of striker who runs the channels and presses from the front, which often has a negative effect on Palace’s overall attacking approach; Sako, though, offered much more dynamism and thrust at the top of the pitch at the weekend, and will almost certainly begin the Eagles’ upcoming match against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
“Before this season he spent a lot of time on the bench and I don’t quite know how many chances he’s had, but he’s obviously not done well enough in them to force himself into the team,” Hodgson said after Saturday’s victory, which moved Palace up to 12th place in the table with 15 games to play.
“But he has done very well recently for us. He would have played at any rate today because of the rate of injuries we’ve had, but in fact, he was certainly in the team merit due to his last performances. It is very good that he could chip in with another good goal and I thought his first-half performance was very good.”
With his contract set to expire at the end of June, Sako has plenty to play for in the coming months. If he continues to contribute goals, Palace will be keen to keep the Malian around.