Liverpool FC: Why Martin Skrtel Is the Most Improved Player of This Season
They were unbeaten at home going into the game and came out of it with the record intact. But the winning run came to a sound halt as the Londoners held on for a 0-0 draw.
It was the ninth draw of the season and the eighth at Anfield.
Disappointed, as they should be, Liverpool supporters can take heart from the fact that their team put out a matured attacking performance and successfully restricted the Spurs in their own half, for most of the game.
But nobody can dispute the fact that one Liverpool player stood out from the rest on that night.
He has been the stand-out player for some time now in this season, and no, it isn’t Luis Suárez, and it definitely isn’t Andy Carroll nor Charlie Adam, for that matter.
That man is Martin Škrtel.
Although there has been talk about how he has forged a great defensive partnership with Daniel Agger, and somehow managed to keep out Jamie Carragher, not many would have pondered about how he has matured as a player.
Let us take a look at the reasons—in the next few slides—that justify my selection of Škrtel as the most improved player for Liverpool FC in 2011-12.
Note: Škrtel’s selection was from amongst the players who were also a part of LFC’s 2010-11 campaign.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Now, I’m one of those persons who are of the view that statistics don’t tell you the actual story.
But if it helps in establishing your point, why not use it!
Cutting straight to the chase, Martin Škrtel’s defensive partners in the Premier League are Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger.
Škrtel’s strength has been his tackling skill.
Although he has been criticised in the past for a few rash tackles and his lack of judgement—statistics tell a different side to the story.
According to Opta stats:
Škrtel is currently Liverpool’s top tackling defender with an 84 percent success rate.
Comparatively, Daniel Agger averages 75 while Carragher’s is 67.
Breaking it down to ground and aerial duels: Škrtel boasts a healthy 70 percent as well, in ground duels, while Agger comes in with 68 and Carragher tops it with 72. And if we take into account the number of extra games that Škrtel has played, then he thumps Carragher hands down.
In the air, Škrtel is the run-away winner having won 77 percent of the duels, while Agger and Carragher come in with a percentage of 64 and 57, respectively.
Agger, however, completes more passes than his team mate—being the more stylish and attack-minded of the two—with an 86 percent completion rate.
Škrtel comes in at 83 with Carragher once again behind at 79.
But on a four-year average, Škrtel easily beats his teammates in all the above variables.
Statistics Speak – II
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Exactly how does Škrtel fare when compared with players from rival teams?
Actually, he is on par with the best in the business.
I am assuming that most of you would agree with the folks at Opta for comparing Škrtel and other rival defenders keeping Man City captain Vincent Kompany as the benchmark.
Škrtel’s tackle success rate of 84 percent is only marginally less than Kompany who has an 85.
Manchester United's pair of Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling record an 87 percent each, but we have to consider the fact that both of them have started a far less number of games.
Breaking it down to ground and aerial duels, Škrtel is more aerially dominant than the Man City captain as he records a 77 to Kompany’s 75.
Only John Terry and Joleon Lescott have a higher percentage with 78.
Škrtel recorded a 70 percent success rate on the ground, comfortably beating off competition from Ferdinand, Kompany, Lescott, Mertesacker and Terry whose combined average comes to 65.
Only Tottenham skipper Ledley King can boast more.
King has a 71 percent success from 14 games while Škrtel’s is from his 21 appearances.
The most glowing thing about the Škrtel-Agger partnership—as observed by Opta—is that neither of them has committed a defensive error.
Seeing Is Believing
Clive Mason/Getty Images
What did we observe from White Hart Lane and Anfield?
One of the bitter memories from the fixture at the Lane earlier in the season (apart from the score line), was that of the red cards brandished to Charlie Adam and most notably, Martin Škrtel for a second foul on Gareth Bale.
It was one of the terrible performances that Martin Škrtel had put out in a red shirt.
On that night, something else became crystal clear.
Škrtel sucks playing right-back—especially if he has to come up against pacier and trickier wingers like Bale.
Fast forward to Anfield and the one defining moment was when Škrtel outmuscled Bale, won the ball and cheekily shoved him into the barriers.
Several remarkable things happened in the wee little gap between the aforementioned instances.
For example: Jamie Carragher became a regular bench-warmer, Steven Gerrard returned from injury, Manchester United was bundled out of the FA Cup and Harry Redknapp revealed that he writes like a kindergartener.
Something else that has happened is that Škrtel is now a confident man when flying into a tackle.
These days we don’t find him getting involved in a goal mouth scramble with one of the attackers from a rival team.
He is more composed when it comes to marking his target and has hardly lapsed under pressure in front of goal.
His positional sense has improved by a considerable margin as well.
Also, reliability has been one of the better aspects of his game in this season. This allows Daniel Agger the freedom to venture forward—especially in the absence of Lucas Leiva—without having to worry about his defensive partner.
Excellent Cover—Dangerous at Set-Pieces
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Continuing in the same vein, Škrtel’s timely help has meant Liverpool has drawn one less game at Anfield.
Rewind back to the match against Newcastle.
Liverpool 2-1 ahead (courtesy of a Bellamy free-kick), and within moments Newcastle already on the counter with Demba Ba. The next thing we know, Reina is beaten and the ball is bouncing and turning dangerously towards the empty net.
And just like a bolt from the blue, Škrtel lunges in for a clearance—and in a spectacular fashion—clears it off the line. I’m sure no Liverpool supporter would have forgotten that moment.
He has done that on a couple other occasions in this season.
What this means is that Liverpool—especially Kenny Dalglish—has managed to find the eventual successor to Jamie Carragher.
Let me make myself clear.
Nobody can actually replace Carragher.
Nobody can be as vocal and commanding but, at the same time, remain committed to the cause like Carragher.
But what Škrtel has shown is that he is more than committed to the task at hand and is serious about representing LFC: all attributes of a classy defender.
With Carragher resigned to the bench, Liverpool have a defensive pair who are dangerous at set-pieces.
Škrtel has two Premier League goals to his name while Agger scored the opener against Manchester United in the FA cup fixture at Anfield.
Agger’s versatility separates him from Škrtel in that he can make forward runs, take a free-kick with venom and is actually more likely to hit the target.
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Carragher’s time is certainly drawing to a close but Liverpool are still the beneficiaries because they have their main defenders in the form of their lives.
Agger’s bad injury record means that doubts will linger over his fitness, and there will be constant fear in the supporters’ minds thinking how long before he breaks down.
However, Škrtel is a bit different.
Because he is the man who achieved the magical number—3,420—last season.
Although he can’t repeat that feat this time, he has gained experience from playing regularly—to playing always, and that can only mean good news.
So, Liverpool are sound at the back with this man in charge.
Now, it is only fair that they shore up the attack and—for crying out loud—score some goals!
What do you think about Martin Škrtel’s selection? Let me know in the comments section below.
Also, read a few of my other articles if time is at your disposal—