As if Steven Gerrard’s stamp on Ander Herrera and the three-match ban it brings wasn’t bad enough for Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers’ men could also lose Martin Skrtel for the same period.
The defender has ben charged by the FA for an alleged stamp on David de Gea, and if he opts against appealing or is found guilty, he’s set for a period on the sidelines.
The incident came when Skrtel was chucked up front for the last few minutes of the Manchester United loss, and appeared to be the product of frustration. The centre-back charged in with the goalkeeper for a lose ball, and looked to leave his foot in to deliberately catch the Red Devils man.
The loss of Gerrard for three games is likely to garner more attention, but being without Skrtel could well be much more costly for the Merseysiders, who now have just eight games to save their ailing top four hopes and a tricky FA Cup run to the final.
Here are FIVE reasons the loss of their defensive lynchpin could be costly…
As the stats show, Skrtel has done more than any other Liverpool defender this season. He tops the charts in terms of interceptions, blocks and clearances, while he also wins more aerial duels than any of his direct competitors – Emre Can, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure.
The fact he’s played more minutes than his team-mates may be a factor in his better numbers, but in a per-game sense he also comes out on top in many of the areas that count for a central defender.
Since the Boxing Day win at Burnley, Liverpool have been operating with a three-man backline. The club’s form prior to this run was abysmal, and at half-time at Turf Moor Brendan Rodgers opted to slot Can in alongside Sakho and Skrtel, and the rest has been history. Up until the weekend loss to Manchester United, Liverpool were undefeated in the Premier League in 2015 and topped the form charts as they set about a top four charge.
In 13 games, only eight goals had been conceded, with four of those coming against United and Spurs. Skrtel has been ever-present, with his steadying influence at the heart of the backline trio key.
Three games may not be a massive amount of time to cope without a first-team player, but the matches Skrtel could miss look likely to be season defining for Liverpool. Next up is a trip to Arsenal, which is very much in the ‘must win’ category following the Manchester United slip, with a loss likely to end any top four hopes the club have. Following that is the FA Cup quarter-final replay with Blackburn, which is closely tailed by a home tie with Newcastle. Lose all three, and Liverpool may as well clock off early for their summer holidays.
To say that Lovren has been a £20m flop would be justified. The Croatian was the third of three Southampton players to relocate to Anfield last summer, and despite his impressive form in his one season at St Mary’s, the 25-year-old has really struggled. A role in the back three being deployed does not seem to suit the defender, who appears to function best when given a solid midfield shield, which is simply not how the Reds operate.
Skrtel’s position at the heart of the defence seems to be best suited to Lovren – who’s likely to step in – although his tendency to lunge into challenges, charge out of position and his lack of mobility could all be exposed… especially at Arsenal.
As captain of his country, there’s no doubting that Skrtel is a leader on the pitch. His position at the centre of the backline allows him to organise both Sakho and Can – the former is slightly erratic in terms of positioning while the latter is a midfielder – which has been key, with his influence a massive part of what’s been good about Liverpool of late.
At the moment the Reds’ young squad appears devoid of leaders on the pitch, and with both Gerrard and, potentially, Skrtel out, Jordan Henderson will have a lot of responsibility.