Coming into Saturday's game against Arsenal, Martin Skrtel had scored two Premier League goals all season long for Liverpool. After just 10 minutes of action against the Gunners, he had doubled his tally on the year.
Skrtel scored both of his goals from set pieces, the first off a free-kick that Steven Gerrard curled delightfully into the box. Of course, you could make a very strong argument that the first tally should have been ruled offside.
From Squawka Football:
There was no doubt about the second, however, as Skrtel curled back around the defense on a corner and hit a brilliant, bending header to the far post past a helpless Wojciech Szczesny. From Squawka:
Well, that one wasn't offside. That's Martin Skrtel's first Liverpool brace. He's on a hat-trick! pic.twitter.com/4ZWNgdNDnY— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 8, 2014
It's pretty remarkable to think that not only could Liverpool score two goals within 10 minutes on a strong Arsenal defense but that they would do so without Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge being the ones to find the back of the net.
Of course, it's no surprise that Skrtel's goals would come from set pieces, as Paul Carr of ESPN noted:
Two goals for Martin Skrtel. Over the last four PL seasons, all 10 of his goals have come off set pieces.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) February 8, 2014
Liverpool weren't done, of course, as the Reds would score two more goals in the next 10 minutes, with Raheem Sterling and eventually Sturridge reaching the score sheet. It was an utter dismantling that took less than 20 minutes.
Just how bad did it get for Arsenal? This bad, according to Carr:
You know a game is out of hand early when announcers are discussing whether or not Skrtel would take a penalty.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) February 8, 2014
Skrtel really was the story. He didn't just play solid on set pieces in the early going, of course, but also was strong in defense. He made a crucial stand against Olivier Giroud in the box in the first half, tapping away the ball as the Arsenal striker tried to cut back in on his right and take aim at Simon Mignolet's goal.
At the half, WhoScored gave Skrtel an 8.8 match rating, easily tops in the match and sending the defender on his way to what looked like a Man of the Match performance.
It was a showing nobody expected in a first half no one could have predicted. And surely a performance that Skrtel won't be forgetting anytime soon.