Crystal Palace have been handed a boost ahead of their Premier League campaign, with Mamadou Sakho starting his first game since February with just over a week before the season starts.
The Frenchman suffered a serious knee injury versus Leicester and in a convincing 4-1 win over Leicester City at the on February 23.
After having a cameo in Palace’s 5-0 win over Bristol City on the weekend, he has now started his first game since the injury, playing 60 minutes in Palace’s 2-2 draw with Wimbledon – their penultimate pre-season game.
The 29-year-old completed 60 minutes; 60 minutes which “accelerated” his return to full-time fitness, according to the official website.
He told the club website post-match: “I feel good and really happy. Step by step coming back I’m coming back.
“During the holiday, I’ve worked really hard. I had just ten days off – three days with my charity work [in Senegal], a week with my family – apart from that I worked really, really hard every day – training in Miami and in Dubai too.”
“I think it’s really important for the young players too – when they play with an experienced player like me. When I was younger I loved to play with more experienced players. It’s just what I try to do today, I was happy – the young lads, they give 100% today. I think all the squad played well – that’s the most important thing for me.”
This is clearly good news for Crystal Palace as Sakho is an important part of their backline.
The Frenchman recorded the best stats for any of the Palace centre-backs last year when it came to allowing dribbles past himself, with him only allowing an average of 0.3 dribbles past him per game, he also gave away the least amount of fouls for any outfield Palace player who has started a game (0.2) and also recorded the highest amount of interceptions for any of Palace’s centre-backs (1.5) and the joint highest amount of offsides won with 0.6, the same as his partner, James Tomkins.
Not only is the centre-back a very good stopper, but his influence on the pitch is unprecedented – Guardian journalist Dom Fifield described him as “a leader and organiser, a warrior and inspiration” after Sakho made an immediate impact once joining the club in 2017.
But an equally important aspect of his game is, at 88.6%, his average pass completion rate far surpasses anyone in the squad who has started a game, with Max Meyer being the next closest with 83.9%. Furthermore, he has the second-highest amount of average passes with 48.9, only bettered by Luka Milivojevic and the highest amount of dribbles per game for a centre-back with 0.3 (all stats per WhoScored).
Clearly, for the reasons above, he commands the defence terrifically well and his leadership is missed when he is not available.
He is often the start of Palace’s attacks and can bring the ball forward when he makes an interception or wins the ball back. Indeed, this is great news for the Eagles ahead of the new season.
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