After a long Monday spent mostly in the office, I turned on the car to begin my commute home. The satellite radio dial was set on channel 85, what they call SiriusXM FC for their 24-hour soccer channel. Commentary was wrapping up on the Monday night match when it dawned on me that I completely forgot Arsenal were playing at Crystal Palace. Imagine my delight when I saw the final score with the Gunners suffering an unlikely 3-0 defeat against their London rivals. As the pundits lauded the great home victory for Crystal Palace, much praise was tossed towards Mamadou Sakho. It gave me pause to ponder what may become of the French defender this summer. Many people, myself included, felt Sakho burnt his last bridge with Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool and would never again play for the Reds. Now I am not so sure.
Looking at the defensive debacle that has recently settled on Merseyside, and you can understand why people have questioned the managerial decision to send the French international defender out on loan. There is no question that we could’ve used his talents to help with what appears to be a depleted depth chart, but there is also little that can be done about it now. If you review the history of his career, one could make the case that Sakho’s departure was a necessity. He had a history of expectations, like telling Carlos Ancelotti in 2012 that he shouldn’t have to compete for a starting position with Alex (who had been recently acquired from Chelsea). It’s like dealing with the spoiled child. If you continue to give in, the child will raise their expectations of what they deserve. Sakho is not a spoiled child. He’s a professional footballer. But maybe shipping him off on loan was the sort of discipline he needed to wake up and start playing to his potential again. Had we kept him at Melwood playing with the reserves, I doubt Klopp calls him up even with the current injury crisis the club is faced with. The change of scenery was necessary for both parties. Regardless we all need to forget about why he was loaned out and move on. The real question with Sakho remains about his future. Where will he play his football next season? Liverpool? Crystal Palace? Somewhere else?
Crystal Palace were in dire straits just before Christmas when they fired Alan Pardew. After 17 matches, the Eagles sat barely above the relegation zone in 17th place on the table with only four wins and fifteen points. Then came Sam Allardyce, who spent most of the January transfer window losing matches while trying to reshape the squad into something capable of winning. Eight matches into the Allardyce era and Crystal Palace were only four points better than before, 19th place and firmly fixed for relegation. Enter Mama Sakho.
On February 25th Allardyce finally put Sakho into the starting lineup. They proceeded to win three straight matches with clean sheets, defeated likely champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, then capped it off with a solid 3-0 win today against Arsenal. With Sakho in the lineup, Palace have earned fifteen out of a possible eighteen points and now sit in 16th place six points clear of relegation with a game in hand. Surely most credit must be given to Allardyce, but it can’t be a coincidence that the turnaround began once Sakho was inserted into the lineup.
As we head into the business end of the season, Sakho might well be helping Liverpool into the Champions League without any of us realizing it. He’s already helped steal points away from Arsenal, a team that continues to capitulate. Crystal Palace will play three more of our top four rivals: home versus Spurs on 26-April, at Manchester City on 6-May, and at Manchester United on the last day of the season. They also come to Anfield to play at Liverpool on 23-April, but Sakho will not be permitted to play due to loan rules. That will give him some rest before hosting Spurs at Selhurst Park three days later. If this form continues for the Eagles and we end up solidly in the Champions League, you could make the case that Sakho indirectly helped get us there.
The real question will need to be asked immediately after the season is over. It’s a safe assumption that Liverpool will qualify for some form of European football next season and that means at least six more fixtures. Our depth, or lack thereof, has been exposed of late when Klopp was forced to start two teenaged reserve players at Stoke City last weekend. This needs to be addressed in the summer transfer window. Rumors have also been floated that the club may try to bring in higher-priced talent than what we’ve seen in recent past. If we don’t retain Sakho, then clearly we will need to at least one more central defender. We all know that whatever transfer funds FSG give Klopp will have a ceiling. Wouldn’t it be nice to save the money we’d need on a new center back and use that towards another need instead (like a world-class striker or a real left back… hint hint)?
After finalizing the loan deal to Crystal Palace, Klopp himself acknowledged that he refused to close the door on Sakho’s possible return to Liverpool. After today’s win against Arsenal, Sakho replied to a reporter that he longed to return to play for Liverpool again. He has three years remaining on his contract and at least one of those may be with Champions League football. Allardyce himself acknowledged that keeping Sakho at Selhurst Park would be a difficult negotiation for the club. If we’ve learned one thing about FSG and how they handle the transfer window, they don’t tend to act quickly regarding outgoing players. The better that Sakho plays for Crystal Palace down the stretch, the higher his price tag will rise. Even if another club tries to swoop in for an early offer, the club will likely hold out for the best deal. If an early deal is secured and Sakho is gone before preseason, then you’ll know that the bridge was burnt well beyond repair last year and all of this was moot. But the longer the saga drags on, the better the chance that Sakho remains a Red. Much like a marriage where husband and wife argue over something, it usually takes compromise for both to get past it and move forward. This is no different. Sakho will have shown that he can be the professional that he needs to be, but Klopp will also have to acknowledge that he may have been slightly wrong as well. If Sakho continues to play like he has been, earning nominations for Premier League Player of the Month like he did in March, then I am sure that Klopp will see for himself. While it wasn’t that long ago that I wrote off Sakho’s Liverpool career, I too will gladly admit that I was wrong if he can return and help us next season.
First things first however. We have six more Cup finals to play, and the first one begins this Sunday at the Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion. Let’s continue to take care of business and march back to the Champions League!! See you at the pub on Sunday!