Liverpool's second greatest No.37
WE'VE been lucky enough to have had some of the finest centre backs and centre back pairings to grace the game.
From Ron Yeats onwards we can point to a steady succession of trophy lifters and captains - some hard men, others more refined Beckenbauer types, sometimes both. I like to think of footballers in positional pairs. Small Keegan to Toshack’s brawn, Sami’s aerial ability to Henchoz’s on the deck tackling ability and Case’s aggression with, well, Souness’ aggression.
Put Deschamps in Chelsea’s midfield and he’s alright at best. Put him next to Zidane and there’s a whole new story.
I could play like Deschamps if I had Zidane next to me. Put me in the middle with Salif Diao and I’d be marginally the better player.
Centre backs come in pairs. It’s all very well having a colossus at the back but if he’s got Kvarme or Squillaci next to him you might as well have Sid Little in there.
Our current four centre backs that they have their individual characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. Carragher’s tackling and shouty persona, Agger’s graceful play coupled with an unerring reading of the game. Coatesy too seems to be more of a player than a hoofer while Martin Skrtel… well, Martin Skrtel has EVERYTHING at the moment.
Skrtel’s early performances were, at best, unpromising. The FA Cup game against Havant and Waterlooville should have been a walk in the park but he was all over the place thanks to being eager to please his new club and Havant’s ‘fuck it, we’re only here once’ have-a-go attitude.
His nerves jangled throughout the game but gradually he improved to such a degree that he’s made the precious number 37 shirt his own.
Back on his debut though he was clearly behind Carra and Agger in Rafa’s pecking order. It’s very rare for a player to make a good start, go backwards and then come back even stronger.
Skrtel’s poor form dates back to the opening day of Rafa’s last season - a lethargic 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane. A head collision with Carragher pretty much did for him for most of that season as he was suddenly nervous about headed clearances and took to allowing the ball to bounce where he’d once he’d have cleared it with a roar and gone back to shaving his head with a bread knife.
The heart was still there to a large extent but the self-doubt was evident. He scored his first goal, a nod-in against City and then, in the same game, allowed Adebayor to run across him for an equaliser. He scored again at White Hart Lane only for Aaron Lennon to get a late winner. His third? West Brom last season. We lost to a late goal.
It’s a wonder we bothered celebrating his goals.
Of course he wasn’t alone that season. Alonso was off, Mascherano was making eyes at the Barca bench and our form collapsed like a wet cake. Skrtel played only half of the League games with Agger and Carragher becoming the preferred choice. All that changed when Hodgson took over and Agger was occasionally shifted to left back.
Skrtel did pretty much the same thing whenever Konchesky played as he had to cover the massive space Hodgie’s favourite left behind him. Skrtel played every minute of every League game last season and slowly the confidence returned.
A major factor may be his position in the back four.
As Carragher’s place is now under threat putting Skrtel on the right of the two establishes a better balance with the left-footed Agger. When Jamie plays he MUST have the right side and Skrtel just isn’t effective on the left.
Nor is he a right back. His two games there led to two stupid defeats and one red card. Before the first game, Boro away in 2010 he warmed up right in front of me. I could see him looking distressed and it took Carra a few minutes of ‘arm around the shoulder captaincy’ to calm him down and tell him it everything was alright and that it would all be okay. It was anything but okay. He stank and so did we.
The message is pretty clear then. Put him on the right in central defence and keep him there.
Course, Carra came back for the Arsenal game and no one picked up Van Persie for the first goal.
I’m not slating Carra but we’re just not as strong when Skrtel’s in that left-sided role. Martin’s return to form has made him, for me at least, the player of the season and certainly the most improved player in years.
A goal in the League Cup final (followed by a marvellous ‘Get the fuck out of my way - we’ve got to defend here’ celebration) couldn’t have been more deserved.
Like many before him he’s proving to be the quiet centre back who you only notice when he’s not there or in the wrong position.
Long may it continue.
This first appeared in issue 13 of Well Red.
|Last Updated ( Wednesday, 18 July 2012 20:35 )|