After two impressive wins with Slovakia during the international break Martin Skrtel must step up to cover Liverpool’s defensive crisis, writes Jack Lusby.
Liverpool enter a pivotal period of seven games over 21 days with Sunday’s clash away to Queens Park Rangers, and Brendan Rodgers’ side are once more facing a defensive crisis of sorts.
The international break has once more heralded injury concerns for the Reds manager, with this particular jaunt leaving £20 million summer signing Dejan Lovren facing a lengthy layoff, according to The Guardian.
This adds to the mysterious injury already inhibiting Reds misfit and talented centre-back Mamadou Sakho, who Brendan Rodgers claims “has a slight strain, which may have him out for a few weeks.”
This congested period of games includes Wednesday’s home Champions League tie against Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid—a crucial encounter—and Rodgers will need his defence to be as tight as possible against Les Meringues.
With £38 million worth of central defenders on the treatment bench, Rodgers’ cherished defensive rock must step up to the plate.
After a successful time away with Slovakia during the international break, Martin Skrtel will be the Reds’ defensive lynchpin in the coming weeks, and his performances must match that of his national side if Liverpool are to endure.
Lovren, Sakho and Toure
So far this season, both Lovren and Sakho have come under criticism after a series of unconvincing displays both as a partnership and alongside Skrtel.
However, the Croat has so far struggled, blaming the lack of linguistic fluency displayed by fellow new boys Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno, lack of “English like me and Sakho it is a little bit harder.”
In truth, however, it has been Lovren’s lack of commitment to fluency at the back that has caused the Reds troubles so far, with a limp display against West Bromwich Albion drawing criticism from BBC Radio 5 Live pundit and new Bolton Wanderers manager Neil Lennon.
Lennon: Dejan Lovren does not convince me. He has looked cumbersome, laboured and he has been erratic in his decision-making today.#LFCvWBA
— BBC Radio 5 Live (@bbc5live) October 4, 2014
Whilst on his day a phenomenal central defender, French international Sakho has not been at his best for the Reds so far when called upon this season.
Whether this is due to the defender’s failure in partnership with Lovren or an individual malady, the 24-year-old is so far yet to produce his imperious international form for his club side.
Nevertheless, without both Rodgers is facing somewhat of a defensive crisis.
Enter Kolo Toure.
The Ivory Coast defender is yet to make any appearances for the Reds this season, but now stands as Rodgers’ most obvious choice at centre-back in Lovren and Sakho’s absence.
Toure’s cult status at the club has made him somewhat of a risible option for the Reds manager, and unfairly so.
According to David Triggs of the Liverpool Echo, “of the 15 games [Toure] started in the league, he was deployed as a centre-back for 14 of them…Liverpool won nine of those 14, drawing three and losing just twice.”
Furthermore, as a Premier League winner, Toure knows a thing or two about high-profile defensive encounters.
It's just dawned on me that Kolo Toure is now likely to face Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema. Holy Mother of God ..
— Aaron Cutler (@aaron_cutler) October 9, 2014
The 33-year-old will always struggle on paper against the mesmeric talents of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez though, but the defender does boast a successful record on the pitch for Liverpool so far.
However, the onus will not be on Toure.
Martin Skrtel captained Slovakia to yet another Euro 2016 qualifier win last night, as his side beat Belarus 3-1. pic.twitter.com/3Oxb1H8di5
— Read Liverpool (@ReadLiverpoolFC) October 13, 2014
Standing as Rodgers’ only first-choice centre-back available, at least at the beginning of this busy stretch, Skrtel will be required to shore up the defence as an experienced leader.
The defender will be buoyed by a pair of impressive victories for Slovakia during the international break, with a 2-1 win at home to Spain last Thursday night an outstanding result for the side.
Skrtel outlined his side’s defensive approach to the game, suggesting that they “had to be compact at the back and then try to use the open spaces on the counter-attack.”
This approach was exemplified by a running battle between Skrtel and Chelsea forward Diego Costa.
Skrtel v Costa… You could put that on in Vegas…. pic.twitter.com/Ve63VuOya6
— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) October 9, 2014
In this instance, the Liverpool man came out on top, and it is this experience and quality that the defender will need to conjure if the Reds are to succeed in the coming three weeks.
Skrtel is criticised with regularity by Liverpool supporters, but clearly remains Rodgers’ go-to central defender, as evidenced by his immediate introduction to the side at Sakho’s expense following a return from injury.
In fairness, the 29-year-old is an able performer, particularly in terms of physical prowess.
Martin Skrtel: Only 2 players have made more headed clearances in the Premier League in 2014 than Skrtel (153)
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 12, 2014
Furthermore, Skrtel’s average of 2.2 interceptions per game, according to WhoScored, make the Slovak Liverpool’s most successful reader of the game this season, and an average passing accuracy of 91.4 per cent outlines the defender as an assuring presence in possession.
No Liverpool defender is a saint, with Rodgers’ reign peppered with individual errors at the back, but Skrtel is far from a poor option.
As captain of Slovakia, Skrtel is a dominant defensive leader—now is the time for our No. 37 to show his true worth in a Liverpool shirt.
Can Martin Skrtel step up to the plate for Brendan Rodgers in the coming weeks? Let us know in the comments below.