Bakary Sako have proven to be a revelation at Crystal Palace this season, as his supreme goal scoring form has injected life into their fight for Premier League survival.
The Malian international held much promise during the early stages of his Crystal Palace career but gradually faded during the 2015/16 and 2016/17 campaigns. The was made an outcast by former manager Alan Pardew and was also unable to convince Sam Allardyce during his brief but effective spell at Selhurst Park.
The 29-year-old has found a new lease of life under Roy Hodgson and is rewarding the former England manager for his faithful decision to recall him to the starting line-up. He’s now scored more goals in his last 16 appearances for the club (6) than in his in his 32 appearances beforehand (2).
Crystal Palace have lacked an attacking source outside Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha due to the declining form of Christian Benteke but it seems they’ve discovered another offensive outlet in Bakary Sako. The Eagles have climbed from rock bottom in the league rankings to an impressive 12th place since Hodgson’s arrival in September and the former Wolverhampton Wanderers winger is playing a key role in their sudden resurrection.
Silence In Early Days At Palace
Bakary Sako’s journey at Crystal Palace began on 5 August 2015 when the club signed him on a free transfer from Wolves following his release. There weren’t many Palace fans that expected too much from the Malian international, however some saw a very talented winger at Wolves with an ability to score from almost every angle. This player almost guided them to the Championship play-offs with the Midlands side just missing out on the final day of the season. Sako spent three seasons at Wolverhampton Wanderers, scoring 38 goals in 124 appearances in all competitions.
Sako was handed his Crystal Palace debut against Aston Villa at Selhurst Park on 22 August 2015. After being denied twice by Brad Guzan in the early stages of the match, Sako netted a last-gasp winner to secure three points for The Eagles. He’d announced himself on the scene from day one and continued his impressive run of form by sending Palace fans into ecstasy by firing a rocket into the roof of the net at Stamford Bridge.
Crystal Palace fans thought they’d discovered a hidden gem in the shape of Bakary Sako but his form began to disintegrate and he endured a fairly underwhelming debut campaign at Selhurst Park. He went onto make a further 21 appearances in all competition but failed to score during this period. His declination in form coincided with the rise of Yannick Bolasie, who played an influential role in helping guide The Eagles to the FA Cup Final in 2016.
Bolasie transferred to Everton during the 2016 Summer Transfer Window but Andros Townsend joined from Newcastle United for £13 million to replace him. This meant Sako remained an outcast at Selhurst Park and failed to score in only eight appearances in all competitions during the 2016/17 campaign.
Sudden Eruption in Form
Bakary Sako started in the game against newly promoted Hudderfield Town in the Carabao Cup third round on 19 September 2017. Sako headed the only goal of the game as Palace ran out comfortable winners against a lacklustre Huddersfield side winning 1-0. This was Roy Hodgson’s first win as Crystal Palace boss and Sako didn’t feature again until 24 October against Bristol City in the Carabao Cup fourth round.
Sako opened the scoring once again in the 21st minute before the collapse began. Crystal Palace capitulated as Bristol City ran riot and thumped the Eagles 4-1 with Palace fans growing sick of their recent poor performances and booing the team off the field at full-time.
December was the month that fortunes turned around for the South London side, especially on a cold Tuesday winter night. Watford were the visitors and took the lead with an early Daryl Janmaat header. Palace were pounding at the Watford defence but couldn’t find the creativity to break them down.
Hodgson decides to bring on Sako who changed the game on its head. Sako poked the ball past Heurelho Gomes a minute before stoppage-time and troubled the defence when he came on, putting pressure on the centre-backs and forcing mistakes. Wilfried Zaha made a mazy run past the Watford defence to put the ball on a plate for James McArthur, who side-footed the ball past Gomes to snatch a win at the death in the 92nd minute.
Sako then scored the winner against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on 16 December 2017 after coming on as a sub when Palace boasted a 2-0 lead. Ruben Loftus-Cheek laid the ball to Sako, who curled the ball beyond Kasper Schmeichel to secure a 3-0 away win for the Eagles.
He then changed the game on 2 January 2018 after coming on as a sub again charging down the wings and working hard yet again to force mistakes from the Saints’ defence. He was heavily involved in the winner racing down the wing to pass the ball back to Townsend, who subsequently assisted Luka Milivojevic to curl a first-time effort past Alex McCarthy and secure Palace’s first win of the new year.
The Malian finally got the start he was looking for against Palace’s bitter rivals Brighton in the FA Cup third round on 8 January 2018. Sako equalised for the Eagles out of nothing, plucking the ball from mid-air and firing an unstoppable low driven finish past Tim Krul, which would count for nothing as former Palace striker Glenn Murray scored the winner to eliminate Palace from the competition. Sako shined in a lacklustre side on the South Coast and earned another start for Palace against Burnley on Saturday.
He continued his momentous form by securing all three points with the decisive winning goal against Burnley at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace have lost just one of their previous twelve matches and Sako has been the catalyst of their upturn in fortunes.
How key can Bakary Sako be in the upcoming games for Crystal Palace?
Bakary Sako is now back to his best and Palace fans are now starting to see the talented attacking midfielder they saw at the beginning of the 2015/16 season. Sako has proved that he deserves a starting spot and the Malian is capable of playing up front, out wide, and as an attacking midfielder. He is very effective from the bench when the game is flat and the team is struggling for creativity. He is even good enough to start now for the Eagles with his rise in form impressing his teammates and the beloved fans that now adore him.
Fans are now singing his name and Sako’s flair and power is sure to impress them further with his dazzling displays in front of goal recently. He is a serious problem for opposing defenders who can’t quite figure out what to do with him. Without Townsend he looks like the perfect replacement for the Englishman.
Considering Palace endured their worst start to a campaign in the top-flight in their opening seven games, they are now five points above the relegation zone. This is an astonishing statistic and Palace are now the team to beat.
Bakary Sako also has a habit of creating something out of nothing with his ability to score from difficult angles and shoot from literally anywhere. This could be handy in the upcoming games with Christian Benteke’s lack of confidence in front of goal at the moment. With Sako constantly improving, could we see the Malian overtake Townsend in the starting eleven when he returns?