Why is this Liverpool veteran a key man for Jurgen Klopp?
With the return of Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson to full fitness and regular first-team starts now agonisingly close for Liverpool fans, there is one player who has stayed strong for the Merseyside outfit through thick and thin. Martin Skrtel has been an ever-present for The Reds in the Premier League at the heart of their defence; appearing in all 14 matches and not missing even a minute. Of the outfield players, only Nathaniel Clyne can match this feat.
With Jurgen Klopp less than two months into his tenure at Anfield, the German manager has clearly already identified Martin Skrtel as an integral member of not only his defensive line, but the squad as a whole. The long-serving Slovakian has been on Liverpool’s books for nearly eight years and his influence on the morale of those around him is abundantly clear. Henderson’s injury presented James Milner with the opportunity of captaining his new club but when the former Manchester City midfielder was not present for one reason or another, it was Skrtel who took on the responsibility of wearing the armband.
Recent years have seen the departure of several defensive stalwarts from the club. Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, and Daniel Agger were all fine executors of their profession and fan favourites to go along with it. Although Mamadou Sakho is rapidly emerging with the status of ‘cult hero’, Skrtel’s presence at the heart of the back four assists his side as much on the pitch as off it. Liverpool are desperately short of born leaders, but motivating others is not something which troubles the experienced hard-man.
Although he has been the unwanted recipient of a barrage of criticism from some quarters, Simon Mignolet rather surprisingly has secured the greatest number of clean sheets in the Premier League in 2015; currently standing at 14. There is no doubt that the Belgian stopper has improved since his nervy early days on Merseyside, but a far greater factor behind the clean sheet success has been Martin Skrtel. While a goalkeeper is commonly the one to bark out orders to the rest of his team, Skrtel has taken on the role of instructor, ensuring that Mignolet makes the correct decisions when he appears to be faltering. The shoots of recovery have also started in Dejan Lovren’s Liverpool career and were it not for his tough central defensive partner’s guidance, the Croatian’s fortunes would not be looking so rosy.
Commitment and passion are two traits which the number 37 has emerging from his very soul, most noticeable when scoring or putting in a typically thunderous goal-saving tackle. This attitude is evident in every single game in a red shirt, with Skrtel determined not to be bested in every individual tussle or duel. The 30 year old averages more clearances and blocks per game than any of his partners at centre half, with self-preservation rarely anywhere higher than bottom on his list of priorities. This approach lifts the crowd even when their heroes may be lacking in other departments, provoking the much-needed support all around Anfield.
All in all, Jurgen Klopp can continue to look towards Martin Skrtel as a lieutenant, a right hand man, and a trusted ally, for he can be sure of the Slovakian’s unwavering support for the cause.
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