In truth it has been a tough season to be a Liverpool fan. After the resurgence of the second half of the 2010-11 campaign, the air of optimism has been replaced, by a real sense of negativity, as the men in Red struggle to gain momentum in the league, slipping further away from fourth spot, which was considered the aim at the back end of last summer. One positive however, has been the development of Martin Skrtel, who has really moved up a gear at the heart of the Anfield defence during the course of the year.
Much has been made of the Mersey men’s failings in front of goal, and this allied to some disappointing results, has led to criticism across the board for Kenny Dalglish, and his team. However, the almost watertight backline deserves real credit, with Liverpool, despite sitting in eighth, having the third best goals against record in the Premier League, trailing only the title chasing Manchester duo, who have been a class above their competitors all season.
Slovakian international Skrtel has been a key cog in the defensive unit, becoming an almost ever present throughout the club’s league and domestic cup campaigns. The 27-year-old arrived at Anfield during the January transfer window of 2008, in a £6.5 million deal from Russian giants Zenit St. Petersburg. His rugged displays had attracted the interest of a variety of sides from across Europe, yet Rafael Benitez swooped quickly to take defender, of whom he had high hopes, to the North West:
“He is aggressive, quick, is good in the air and I think he’s a very good player for the future and also for the present. He is very competitive, but his mentality for me is very good.”
Although he appeared a little nervous in his opening displays in the red shirt, he soon settled, leading to comparisons with Jamie Carragher, whom he was expected to the long-term replacement. In truth these comparisons looked a little far-fetched at first, due the immeasurable talents of the Reds vice-captain, yet as the years and seasons have ticked by, Skrtel has evolved into a top level Premier League defender. The displays of Newcastle’s Fabricio Coloccini and Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, coupled with Liverpool’s poor league form saw Skrtel miss out on a spot in the PFA team of the year, of which he was, arguably, in contention for, due his consistency.
Even the most blinkered of Premier League fans would have to admit that defensive performances this term have been below their usual standard, with teams throwing off the shackles, in search of adventurous and forward thinking displays. Liverpool have attempted this to a degree, with Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson being pushed further up the field to support the attack. As well as this, defensive midfielder Lucas has been missing due to injury, eliminating the defensive screen in front of the backline, although Jay Spearing has filled in, his performances and quality have been below that of the Brazilian. These factors have led to, at times, Skrtel and Daniel Agger becoming exposed to the opposition, but their partnership has been effective enough to repel attacks on many occasions. Along with his defensive abilities, the three-time Slovakian player of the year has also proved his attacking worth, particularly at set-pieces. The centre-half has pitched in with some vital goals this term, in particular the equaliser in the Carling Cup final.
Although fans of the club may have been worried about the possibility of life without the ageing Carragher at the start of the campaign, the emergence of Skrtel has shown that Liverpool have the necessary personnel to continue. Daniel Agger gains much praise for his easy on the eye displays, but Martin Skrtel is just as important, providing the ideal shield at the back for the club.
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