Perception is a funny thing. It wasn’t very long ago that Palace fans were insisting that Bakary Sako should be released or sold at a cut-price fee in order to free up a squad place for a new player.
I admit that I was someone who wanted him to be sold because ever since he scored two goals in his first two appearances for us in 2015, he has been awful!
So today, the day after Sako scored his 6th goal this season in all competitions to become our leading scorer, I find myself wondering if he is the best striker we have at the moment. A player who is, in effect, playing out of position.
So, who would you prefer in a one-man attack, Bakary Sako, a player who has scored 2 goals in 2 appearances (6 goals in 16 appearances, most of them as a sub, this season) or Christian Benteke, a player who has scored 1 goal in 17 appearances this season?
I’ve been one of Sako’s biggest critics since he signed for the club on a free transfer by Alan Pardew. He has been nothing but awful after those first two appearances up to the past month.
Thinking about it, it’s fortunate for Benteke that Roy Hodgson likes to play 442 but if, for whatever reason, we had to go back to playing 433 or 451 (look at it how you want) then who would I want to play as our lone striker? I have to say I would choose Bakary Sako!
I don’t base my decision on anything personal because I’ve no doubt that Benteke is a nice person. In fact, I couldn’t give a toss how any player is as a person, it’s what they do on the pitch that matters to me but in that sense, Sako seems a nice guy too.
I base my decision purely on form and the type of player that they are.
It seems to me that Sako and Benteke are almost polar opposites. Sako is fast, powerful, tricky on the ball, runs around like a maniac and has a shotgun of a shot on him. However, Sako isn’t particularly tall or good in the air.
Benteke, on the other hand, doesn’t seem particularly fast, isn’t difficult to knock off the ball, isn’t happy to chase players down and seems to have a piss poor shot on him these days. What he has going for him is his height and that he is an excellent header of the ball.
If we are playing 442 we have the luxury of being able to accommodate both types of striker. The little and large or the Wright and Bright combination of forwards.
I confess I’ve always been a 442 man. I’ve never liked all the fancy foreign formations. You know where you are with a 442. It won us the World Cup and Leicester the title. But I accept it isn’t the be all and end all for tactics these days.
Looking back, I always thought we went to a 433 style because we didn’t have strikers to play 442, which does seem strange when you consider we had Dwight Gayle and Glenn Murray at one point, who combined well on the night we drew 3-3 with Liverpool in 2014.
I also have to confess that I have never considered Christian Benteke to be a ‘Crystal Palace striker’ in the mould that Wright, Johnson, Armstrong, Morrison, and dare I say his name, Freedman was in their time.
No, I’ve always considered Benteke to be a younger version of Emmanuel Adebayor. That isn’t meant as an insult! In his day Adebayor was an immense player who needed the team to play a style to suit him. Christian Benteke was also a great player in his day, and that day seems to have past.
I know, I hear you! Benteke is only 27 years-old, how can I write him off already? Because sometimes that’s how things work out for players.
In April 2014 while with Aston Villa, Benteke ruptured his Achilles tendon in training and many people in the game think he hasn’t been the same player since. This injury came after months of niggling injuries including a hip flexor injury, many think they have all added up and he’s lost some pace and movement.
That aside, like Adebayor, Benteke needs the team to play a certain way and we just can’t do that. Benteke was part of the master plan by Alan Pardew to play a more expansive style of play, something that would suit Benteke.
There are many Palace fans who salivate about a front three of Benteke, Zaha and Bolasie. I wonder if some fans really think things through sometimes?
Can you imagine a Palace counter-attack where we break from an opposition corner? By the time Benteke made his way up front the attack would be over.
For all their skill and speed, Zaha and Bolasie are not players to get the ball and hold up play to bring in an attacker or midfielder. They have one intention and that is to go and attack.
The sad truth is we have two choices. The first is to let Benteke go, get as much as we can for him then buy a Palace-style striker. The other is to change our style to suit Christian Benteke’s strengths, which would mean changing the style to an expansive style of play… again!
We’ve tried the expansive style of play twice and we all know how that ends don’t we? Well, no, luckily we don’t because both times Steve Parish has bottled it and pulled the plug on the project before we got relegated.
Third time lucky?