Friday, 10 May 2013

Martin Skrtel: The Decline



Hey guys,


It’s been a while! Due to university dominating my life, I haven’t been able to write any more woeful articles, but now, Uni is finished, I’m looking for a job and I have more time on my hand, so I’m back!

Muhahah. Suckers..

Anyway, so as the title quite clearly suggests, this article is about Martin Skrtel. 

Now, Big Martin Skrtel is an intriguing case. Last season, he was the main man for Liverpool. He was voted the clubs player of the year last season and his form earned him a new deal. The Slovakian international was also linked heavily with the likes of Man City too. 

But fast forward a year, Martin Skrtel’s stock has fallen dramatically. 

He has gone from being a certain starter for Liverpool to being a mere squad player and arguably a liability for the reds.

But why has Martin Skrtel fallen so fast? Or has his decline been something which has been overstated by fans or the media? Let’s have a look at his stats.

Red = worst, Green = Best
Ok, so, looking at the stats, it is quite clear, Martin Skrtel’s defensive stats have dramatically decreased this season. 

It is most concerning for Liverpool that the crucial defensive stats such as the ground win percentage, aerial win percentage and the defensive errors are far worse this season. But why is this the case? Why has Liverpool’s most consistent player of last season, had his form shattered this season? 

There are a number of theories behind the reason why, the likes of the guys at the Anfield Wrap and Chris Machin of The Red Men TV suggest that the constant tweaking of managers and playing styles has effected Skrtel’s confidence and has therefore unsettled him. 

This is a credible theory, over the past four seasons, Martin Skrtel has played in Rafa Benitez’ pragmatic defensive setup, then the season after, Skrtel was in a more rigid Hodgson system. While under Dalglish, things changed again. However, the most contrasting change in styles occurred this season. Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers have become a far more attacking side. 

Rodgers’ more flexible, attacking Liverpool, is a system where both full backs bomb on forward and arguably, less players are given defensive discipline. This could have had an effect on Skrtel’s game. Prior to this season, he was often given much more protection and as a unit the reds looked far more stable. This could be why Martin Skrtel has struggled this season. He is now playing in a system which demands far more from him as an individual, while he gets less protection from his team mates. 

Perhaps this makes sense, think about it, often this season, many teams have found space between the Liverpool midfield and defence lines. The consequence of this is that Skrtel and his centre back partners have more players to track from various scenarios in play. Whether it would be for example central attacks or attacks from out-wide. 

But is it all down to Martin Skrtel or Brendan Rodgers’ system? I think it’s a mix. Some argue it also comes down to personality. Rodgers has suggested on a number of occasions that the reason Jamie Carragher is in the side, is due to his marshalling and leadership skills. And the reality is some defenders thrive in the responsibility of having to defend in systems which leave them more exposed to attacking threats.
So I think the decline of Skrtel is due to him not being suited to the Rodgers demands of play. As last season demonstrated, if Liverpool were better structured defensively, and Skrtel was given more protection by the midfield, his quality would shine through. 

One major criticism of Skrtel has been his performances verses the bigger, more imposing strikers. Rodgers infamously suggested that Skrtel and Liverpool made the Oldham’s No. 9 Matt Smith look like Didier Drogba and the reality is, Liverpool and Skrtel did. 

However, I think Skrtel’s performances against the more physical strikers has always been something of a concern. Last season, in the FA Cup Final, Martin Skrtel was bullied by Didier Drogba. Drogba won most of the aerial duals and dominated the space and exploited him time after time. 

But this season, due to Skrtel being less confident and uncomfortable, these showings against the bigger strikers have stood out even more. One looks at his performances versus Villa and Southampton, against Benteke and Lambert, he struggled incredibly. 

As I’ve mentioned before, Skrtel is finding himself more exposed in this defensive setup, so his protection against these bigger more aggressive target men is much more limited. This means he is often left to sink. But there have been times, where he needs to help himself more, sometimes, the likes of Benteke and Lambert have bounced off Skrtel. 

But as the summer arrives and the imminent departure of Jamie Carragher looming, where do Liverpool go from here? Where does Martin Skrtel go from here?

Should Liverpool keep him? Should Skrtel look for a move?

For me, Liverpool should sell. The player does not look comfortable in Rodgers’ system.  

What really concerns me about Martin Skrtel is how uncomfortable he looks in the Liverpool setup. As the stats clearly suggest his awkwardness in the system has affected his defensive contribution. 

When one looks at Martin Skrtel on the ball, he appears to lack the composure, the comfort and the ease of mind to play it out from the back in a concentrated fashion. And the worst thing is, I don’t think Skrtel himself believes that he can comfortably pass it out from the back and be someone who can retain the ball, dribble past the striker to create space and have more options to pass to. 

Martin Skrtel’s decline has been staggering. I don’t think many would have expected him to be behind Jamie Carragher at the start of this season. It is clear, Skrtel is yet more proof that even defenders can struggle to adapt to particular systems. It’s unfair to label Martin Skrtel a poor defender. The reality is, he is a good defender, in the right system. Sktrel demonstrates how Liverpool are still in transition, there are still players in the side who don’t fit the Rodgers demands of playing. 

So, to conclude the three reasons why Skrtel has struggled this season:

  • Liverpool less compact as a defensive unit
  • Liverpool more attack orientated than defensive orientated
  • Martin Skrtel’s confidence has been knocked due to being dropped and this has not been helped by him being incompatible to Rodgers style of play.
Stats Via EPL Index (Stats taken on  7/05/13)

4 comments:

  1. I agree with the points you've made but I do think his decline is overstated. And I think it's overstated due to Brendan Rodgers' poor man management and rotation policies.

    Whilst it's pretty clear Skrtel hasn't been as good as last season, he hasn't been shambolic either. But Rodgers appears to be a firm believer in form - if he picks a player, it's usually for several games in a row. He's the complete opposite of the Benitez years where each week we'd find a tinkered starting eleven. Think Sterling & Suso post-Christmas, Downing pre-Christmas, Henderson only ever plays clumps of games, Andre Wisdom, etc. Sterling in particular has been thought off as having tailed off this season despite a phenomenal start, when in reality, he just hasn't been given the chance by Rodgers. It's the same with Skrtel, IMO.

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