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Crystal Palace Handshake Shocks Delicate English Sensibilities

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Never mind Liverpool’s embarrassing defending, an as-good-as-ex-player celebrated with a silly handshake.

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Liverpool were defeated on the pitch by Crystal Palace, defeated by their own defensive failings and frailties, defeated once again by a side in the bottom half of the table. It's a result that means they no longer control their Champions League destiny, a result that speaks to just how thin the squad is, and a result that should have people asking questions about Jürgen Klopp's first choice defence.

Instead, we're all meant to be talking about an incident off the pitch. We're meant to be focused on a handshake between two former Liverpool players that apparently showed disrespect. Because to some pundits and talking heads and fans, apparently that's what matters. Not the game and not the loss and not the fact that Liverpool are now a 50:50 shot at best to make the top four this season.

So here's Mamadou Sakho, talking about his handshake, which if you listen to some fans and many in the English media had a more meaningful impact on the outcome of the match than a pair of egregious defensive failings by Dejan Lovren, the man Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp decided made a better first choice centre half than Sakho when he froze the French defender out last summer and sent him to the reserves.

"When Christian scored, I stayed seated as I didn't want to celebrate by respect for the club to which I belong and the fans," said Sakho, who might still be a Liverpool player—a Liverpool loanee—on paper but whom the club and every journalist with ties to it has made abundantly clear will be sold permanently at the end of the season and will not get another chance with.

"But when he came over to me, I stood up and did what we always do as friends, our hand check. There was nothing behind it, nothing else to imply by it. Just two friends who are playing for the same team and who have the same goal, which is to get the three points at each game to make sure the team stays in the Premier League."

It's Klopp's call, of course, and he remains a top manager with a long-term vision for the club. And that vision may at times mean making unpopular or controversial choices. If those choices play a role in the club missing out on the top four and Champions League football, though, it will be right to ask questions. It will be right, at the very least, to be critical and ask if the right choice was made.

Instead, some seem quite entirely invested today in focusing in on the Sakho issue. The Liverpool Echo, who perhaps know what side their bread is buttered on and are doing their damnedest to ask questions about Sakho's apparently lacking professionalism rather than Klopp's decision and a defence that even when his four first choice starters start often appears quite thoroughly dysfunctional.

For some fans, it's similar. In their football world view, you're either a hero or a villain, and so focusing on Sakho's supposedly villainous handshake allows them to largely ignore Liverpool's defensive failings or to bother asking why, if Sakho wasn't the answer—and it's quite entirely fair if Klopp didn't believe that he was—Liverpool seem to have ended up with a worse defence without him.

The right and wrong of the situation doesn't even matter any more. Not this latest, constructed, handshake-gate and not even whatever and however Sakho and Klopp first fell out. If Sakho wasn't part of the future at Liverpool, the onus was on Klopp to construct a defence that was better for his absence. Right now, at the end of April in 2017, it can be said categorically that that hasn't happened. That's what matters.