To say Liverpool, and their fans, enjoyed a fine weekend would be an understatement. As, Spurs aside, all around them dropped points, the Reds furthered their claim for a top four finish with a 3-1 win over their most bitter of bitter rivals, Everton, in which they played their adversaries off of the park and rarely looked under threat. As well as this, their main competitors didn’t fire at goal to the level they did, with no team matching Liverpool’s three goals, furthering Jurgen Klopp’s side’s status as the division’s most potent outfit with a whopping 64 goals in 30 games.
Alas, there was one negative in the form of young Matthew Pennington sullying Simon Mignolet’s potential clean sheet with a scruffy goal. Yet again, a set-piece resulted in a strike against for Liverpool, who have now shipped 37 – the most in the Premier League’s top eight and more than Middlesbrough (33) in the bottom three. It’s odd then, that Klopp’s best centre-back, Mamadou Sakho, is playing away from Anfield.
It may seem hyperbolic to claim the Frenchman is the top centre-back on Liverpool’s books, but on current form it’s hard to argue against it. Granted, there are caveats such as the system the Eagles play offering him more protection for him, but it’s hard to overlook three clean sheets in four league games and just the one goal conceded. Sakho was at the scene of the crime, so to speak, as the Reds let the ball hit their own net with regularity during recent seasons, but is he any worse an option that Ragnar Klavan or Lucas Leiva at the heart of the backline?
The 27-year-old really has been excellent since his late winter move to Palace. After being frozen out by Klopp for the opening half of the season and publically urged to move on by his German boss, the former Paris Saint-Germain captain headed to Selhurst Park having not played a competitive game of football since April 20 2016 – partially down to an alleged doping offence, for which he was cleared by UEFA – so his rapid turnaround has been impressive. It took the best part of a month for him to make his debut, which is no surprise given U-23 football had been the norm for him during the winter months, but he has not looked back since making Sam Allardyce’s XI, securing four wins while helping the Eagles to concede just one goal in that time – which came from league leaders Chelsea (his stats from that game are below).
Sakho is not away from Liverpool for footballing reasons. The aforementioned UEFA ban that kept him out of the 2015/16 season run-in and the Europa League Final tested Klopp’s patience before the straw that seemingly broke the camel’s back came when he was sent home from the club’s pre-season training camp in America for a range of disciplinary issues. Some argue that the German manager has been too stubborn, but if he believes the player to be a negative influence on a squad comprised of many young players, he’s within his rights to act the way he has.
Yet should there be a way back? Sakho is loved by a large section of Liverpool fans, while the belief that he’s a one-man disaster zone of a player really is a myth given his impressive passing stats. He is commanding aerially, is physical and boasts a decent turn of pace, so if pride can be swallowed on both parts, a return to Liverpool makes sense for the club’s on-field pursuits, especially as those will almost certainly include some form of European football next season. And perhaps his aerial prowess is what’s missing given the Reds’ poor set-piece defensive record.
Reports of a £30m price-tag being put on him by the club have started to circulate, suggesting a parting of the ways is still the outcome Klopp wants, but it might not be the outcome he should be seeking.