Mamadou Sakho has insisted he did not mean to cause Liverpool or their supporters any offence by celebrating with Christian Benteke on the touchline as the Belgian’s brace secured Crystal Palace’s third successive win at Anfield.
The France centre-half, who is on loan at Selhurst Park for the remainder of the campaign, was ineligible for the fixture on Sunday and had admitted in an interview with the Guardian last week he would find the situation “awkward” as he returned to his parent club.
Sakho took a seat behind the Palace bench on Merseyside and, while he did not react overtly when Benteke equalised late in the first half, he stood and engaged in a celebratory handshake routine with the striker after he approached the touchline.
“When Christian scored, I stayed seated as I didn’t want to celebrate [out of] respect for the club to which I belong and the fans,” said Sakho, who will return to the Palace team for the injured James Tomkins against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night. “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.
“We were very happy, obviously. We need all the points we can get to be sure to stay in the Premier League – that is our mission. That is why I accepted the challenge with Palace, and we need to be the best we can as a team to succeed. If we were losing 2-0 and Christian reduced the score, we would have also done it if he came to me. I still hope Liverpool qualify for the Champions League at the end of the season, and wish them luck.”
Benteke went on to score the visitors’ second-half winner. The pair duly repeated their routine on the pitch after the game with Palace having hoisted themselves to 12th in the table with a sixth win in eight matches.
Sakho is contracted to Liverpool until 2020 but, having missed the run-in to last season due to a drugs ban erroneously imposed by Uefa – the governing body were highly critical of the World Anti-Doping Agency in a report published last week – fell out of favour over the summer.
Perceived tardiness on the team’s pre-season tour of the United States, for which he apologised and was fined, served to fracture his relationship with Jürgen Klopp and, despite remaining at Anfield until January, he eventually sought first-team football at Palace on transfer deadline day. It remains to be seen where his future lies next term.
The Frenchman made a point of praising Liverpool in his interview. “I’m in an awkward position,” he said before the trip to Merseyside. “I have a foot in each camp. I still belong to Liverpool, a club I really appreciate, a great team with a great manager.” Yet his impact at Palace has been impressive, with 16 points accrued from the seven games he has played as Sam Allardyce’s side have risen to 12th in the table.