Martin Skrtel and the importance of his form to Liverpool
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.