Trio of Wingers - The league's best?
After a weekend of beating the Champions in their own back yard, a lot of focus has been placed on Palace and our wingers in particular. Whilst there may be numerous multi-million pound midfielders in the Premier League, Palace’s cut-price trio of wide-men should be feared as much as any, writes Sam Hesketh.
It’s an old adage that defenders hate players running at them at pace, and it rings true with fans in the crowd too. There is nothing worse than seeing an opponent bombing down the wing, leaving the full-back in his wake, hearing the clatter of seats as fans rise in anticipation and the crescendo of noise emanating from opposition fans, as he then whips in a cross for the inevitable goal.
But flip that around so it is your player that has fans on their feet expecting something special and there are few things on a pitch that can touch that feeling. In the last quarter of a century, we’ve been lucky enough to see some exciting wingers, from Johnny Salad and Eddie McGoldrick through Wayne Routledge and Victor to our current crop and it is these players that Pardew sees as resting firmly in the range of “Palace type player”.
Though we used the pace of our wingers on the counter-attack under Pulis, it is really under Pardew’s tutelage that we have moved to the next level.
The year we gained promotion to the Premier League saw the team exploit the talents of Bolasie and Wilf to their fullest and with Murray in such scintillating form, their skills and creativity allowed the team to flourish in ways no-one could have expected after the initial three games of the season. But as good as the duo were, they have become even better players over the course of the last three seasons to the point where they are genuinely feared by opponents and increasingly loved by neutral fans.
Though we used the pace of our wingers on the counter-attack under Pulis, it is really under Pardew’s tutelage that we have moved to the next level, encouraging a more attacking mentality, exploiting the wings as much as we can. Whilst Pards has looked to bring more creativity and ability to unlock teams in the middle, moving Punch into a number 10 slot and bringing in Cabaye, we are still able to use our width to devastating effect.
Our ranks were improved even further recently by the free transfer signing of Bakary Sako, a player who scored and created goals for fun in League One and the Championship and was so beloved by Wolves fans that they continue to send him messages of goodwill on social media (likely helped by his signing with Palace and not West Brom). His inclusion in the squad is more than just another number however, as he provides a different dimension to Yala and Wilfried.
Whilst Bolasie and Zaha have mesmerising trickery, providing opportunity for Vine videos galore and showboating their way to Fifa 15 glory, Sako is a more direct winger. Very strong, he is able to hold off defenders with ease, showcased at Stamford Bridge when he ran backwards and across the pitch with a home player nipping at his heels and pulling his arm, without giving up possession. This physicality has already been used to push past defenders, allowing the Malian to utilise that rocket of a left foot, powering shots at Guzan and Courtois that knocked both men over, whilst also showing a deft touch, placing the ball easily into the corner of the Holmesdale net against Villa.
Much to the chagrin of Branislav Ivanovic, we now have the option to replace one of our two wingers with another of the three off the bench and this depth is something that will most certainly stand us in good stead. Zaha had a good first half against Chelsea, linking up well with Sako in a brilliant flowing move that ended in a perfect pass to Cabaye who should have put us one up. His form has been good and as mentioned, his performance in the first period was exactly what we needed from him, but being able to then bring on a fresh Bolasie shows how good a squad we now have.
Yannick’s introduction gave us another lift and his first time cross to Sako, who showed persistence and clearheadedness with his right foot finish, was a perfect way to stamp himself on the game, following it up with the cross that led to Ward's winner. We all know his final ball can be lacking somewhat at times, but his willingness to improve has been great to watch as he first gained a hat-trick last year and is finding a team-mate with a cross more often than when he first graced the pitch after his transfer from Bristol City.
In an era where £30m transfers are happening with alarming regularity, Palace bringing these players in for very little money makes their presence in the squad even more enjoyable.
Across a season there will be injuries and dips in form, so being able to pick two from an extremely talented three, all of whom offer something special to the team, is a luxury we have not had in a very long time. There are players who can fit into the team in those positions in a pinch, such as Punch, Mutch and Chung-Yong Lee, but it is no longer a necessity. In an era where £30m transfers are happening with alarming regularity, Palace bringing these players in for very little money makes their presence in the squad even more enjoyable.
Tricks, pace and goals, there can’t be many teams in the league that have as intimidating a collection as we do. We’re only four games into the season but the thought of Zaha, Yala and Sako marauding down the wing home and away is something every Palace fan should look forward to every week.
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