Martin Skrtel has become that rare thing in football: the goalscoring centre-back. With six league goals to his name already, the Slovak has scored the joint highest amount for a defender in the Premier League this season.
His increased form in front of goal reflects that of his team. Liverpool have scored 90 goals so far this campaign, and assuming they continue at this rate, are set to break Chelsea’s record of 103 scored in the 2009/10 season.
However, it’s at the other end of the pitch that Liverpool have come into criticism.
Their 40 goals conceded in 33 games means that if they win the league, they would likely set another record, but not such a glamorous one. Liverpool’s current rate of conceding 1.2 goals a game means that if they are crowned champions, it’ll be with a record number of goals conceded.
While some of the criticism of Liverpool’s defence may be motivated by a want to detract from their success going forward, no one at the club could deny that they are defensively suspect. However, it’s likely that the team would be a lot more than suspect at the back if it wasn’t for Martin Skrtel. Such has been the defender’s form, that he must be credited with keeping largely respectable at the other at of the pitch.
When Brendan Rodgers was appointed Liverpool manager, Daniel Agger was widely regarded as the team’s best centre-back. The more mobile of the pair, and with a wide passing range, the Dane better fitted the mould of the modern centre-back. But in spite of Rodgers’ progressive views on the game, it’s Skrtel who has gained the trust of the manager.
And he’s more than repaid that trust in kind.
Martin Skrtel has been the one permanent fixture in the Liverpool defence this season. And that’s saying something. Rodgers has tinkered and tweaked his team constantly this season, beginning with four defenders, before experimenting with three at the back, before reverting back to a standard four.
One of the few constants in this state of flux has been Liverpool’s penchant for leaking goals. Despite this, Rodgers has been unable to find fault with Sktel. And that’s not surprising when you examine his form more closely.
Martin Skrtel has made more defensive clearances than any other player in the Premier League this season, averaging 11.5 per game. This rate is considerably more than Nemanja Vidic manages, who comes in second with 10.3. The next three best-placed players – James Collins, Jonas Olsson and Ben Turner – all play for clubs in the bottom half of the table.
But you’d expect these players to make more clearances per game. They play for clubs who have to do a lot more defending. That Skrtel manages to make so many clearances playing for the league leaders suggests that he is out-performing all other defenders in the Premier League in this respect by some distance.
The defender also has the joint 5th most amount of blocked shots in the Premier League, stopping on average a shot a game. And again, Skrtel finds himself to be an outlier in this field, with all the players above, and around him, in the table playing for clubs in the bottom half of the league.
While it must be accepted that Liverpool’s defenders have more work to do than clubs who tend to find themselves at the top of the table, this does not fully explain the gulf in Skrtel’s stats. For a start, if it was just due to the increased amount of defending that Liverpool do, then we’d expect to see more of their players leading the defending charts. As it is, Skrtel stands alone.
If Liverpool are to win the League, it will be their forward play that will inevitably receive much of the credit. However, it’s clear that they would be nowhere near the top if it wasn’t for the form of Martin Skrtel.