Many fans and pundits alike believe that a team rely solely on a striker to win football matches and this doesn’t require the slightest amount of intelligence to refute. Most commonly forwards will be scoring the goals but more often than not your defenders are protecting the goals. It’s simple as that’s what their intended for. No real trick or marvel involved. It’s when forwards drop forward to defend the goals they’ve scored, like Jermaine Defoe against Newcastle United last week who was seen making slide tackles far from his favored centre forward position, that we are truly impressed. Fans love it for a striker to score 25 goals in a season but what gets the most applause is the fight that is seen to win the ball back chasing a fullback down when lost upfront. This is seen non-stop in Barcelona’s Luis Suarez. Martin Skrtel also shows this fight and aggression when he plays. While he may not be a striker you get the feeling that if you have the ball near him that may not be the case for much longer.
Just under two years ago the best word to describe Skrtel would have been calamitous. You couldn’t watch a game without him miscuing a shot or wrestling a player to the floor inside the box. Having faith in Skrtel was a dangerous affair and would most likely pay few dividends. He was still however a top defender in and amongst his copious defensive errors. He made many a vital tackle. He plays with an aggression that is as crucial to his game as boots for any other player. While he is liable to throw a player to the floor in a lapse of concentration he established himself last term as the club’s most consistent defender.
The irony lies in the fact that the Slovakian very nearly left the club at the beginning of the 2013/2014 season. He seemed likely to be edged out of the club the possibility of Dejan Lovren and Kyriakos Papadopoulos coming to the club was voiced sincerely. The failure of those transfer deals coupled with injury to Kolo Toure meant that Martin Skrtel had to come into the fray against Manchester United alongside his defensive partner of several years, Daniel Agger. His total domination of Manchester United lead to his reinstatement for the remainder of the season. By the end of the season he was the second most played player only after keeper Simon Mignolet.
One of the most impressive aspects about Skrtel’s game is his knack for a goal at an important stage in the season. Last season he grabbed seven goals making him the highest scoring defender in the league. Two of which came in the 5-1 thriller at Anfield against Arsenal. He scored a goal within three minutes at Chelsea and despite the fact that Liverpool ultimately lost 2-1 it shows that he shows up when it counts. As well as his brilliantly headed goal in Liverpool’s game against City at Anfield last season which finished 3-2 to the Reds thanks to a Philippe Coutinho winner.
While last season was, individually, arguably, a better season for Martin Skrtel due to the goals he scored plus the title challenge and obtainment of Champions League football for the season current it has to be said that it has been more important for Liverpool to have an in-form centre-back season long compared to last season. This is because Liverpool aren’t scoring the goals that they were last season what with the sale of Luis Suarez and almost consistent absence of Daniel Sturridge. Thus Liverpool have need a solid defence for the first time since anyone can remember Liverpool have had something that resembles a capable defensive unit.
Liverpool started out the 2014/2015 campaign on the backfoot and never really seemed like they were going to be able to bring it back to a point where they were going to make something meaningful of this campaign until Brendan Rodgers changed the formation to a 3-4-2-1. This genius switch of shape and use of players has been well publicized and rightly so as it got the season back on track and a huge part was and has been Martin Skrtel. In many ways the change suited the Slovakian and utilized some of his best features and shed less light on his weaker aspects of gameplay. The three at the back for the most part has been Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and Emre Can whose versatility this season has been a massive plus.
Skrtel is prone to lapses in his concentration and whether that results in him playing a delicious through ball for Carlos Tevez to easily round Pepe Reina back in 2013 or to needlessly throw Romelu Lukaku to the floor. These lapses in concentration can be due to a various number of things but with two other centre-backs alongside him he is unlikely to find himself in a situation where he is so closed down by opposition forwards due to the nature of the formation. Emre Can and Sakho both bring a calmer and more possession based mindset to removing the ball from the defensive third. Due to Skrtel’s old school style he is more likely to clear the ball and Can and Sakho alongside allows him to have less responsibility where distribution is concerned.
Skrtel has been in immense form this season and it allows the midfield to worry less about needing to clean up any mess that is made and focus more on an attack which has been absolutely woeful this term with the absence of an in-form striker for the duration of the campaign. His form has also allowed for the confidence of Simon Mignolet to grow and his form has been superb of late and we have been privy to some truly impressive saves. Skrtel has had a great season and the importance of it has been that it has risen the team performance indirectly by allowing them not to worry about conceding when they lose the ball. He has very much become a player that has learn from his mistake and made sure not to make them again.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest
The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.
Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.
Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.
Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.
Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.
The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.
The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.
If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.
However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.
The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.
Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.
The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.
Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.
Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.
The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.
Have West Ham United found the next Mark Noble in Alfie Lewis?
The 18-year-old put in a fine performance against Dagenham and Redbridge this week.
West Ham United took on Dagenham and Redbridge in a friendly yesterday, in a match to raise funds for the National League side.
It was no surprise to see West Ham come out victorious. They won 3-1, with Michail Antonio at the double and Jordan Hugill scoring his first goal for the club.
It was, however, a Hammers team depleted by international selection.
With that in mind, David Moyes’ side fielded some of their younger players. Plenty of them caught the eye, but none more so than central midfielder Alfie Lewis.
The 18-year-old put in a fine display for 90 minutes which left West Ham fans very excited on social media.
It was an even more special achievement given Lewis spent most of last year on the sidelines with a serious knee injury.
Lewis himself told the official West Ham website after the game: “I’m delighted.
“It was a good experience for me tonight, to play with the likes of Patrice Evra, and Mark Noble in midfield. It was a good challenge and a good test for us as well, and I think I did well.”
He spoke of it being an honour playing alongside Mark Noble, but is he the successor to the throne?
Whilst Noble has had his critics in recent times there is no doubt he has been a long-term hero at West Ham.
Fans of the club have often wondered why Noble has never received England recognition given his consistent form in the Premier League.
Noble has gone on to play over 400 games for West Ham since his debut for the club back in 2004.
Lewis certainly has the ability to follow in his footsteps. An energetic midfield creator, West Ham look to have another midfield gem in their ranks and one that can hopefully progress into the first-team soon.
The Hammers have a fine record of bringing through young players.
Noble is one current example and Lewis could not be at a better club if he is to find his way into the West Ham first-team.
This season, with a relegation battle raging, might come a little too soon for the teenager.
Nonetheless, in 2018-19 it will not be a surprise if Lewis finds himself playing alongside Noble in the West Ham midfield once again.
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