Oh, Martin Skrtel.
Since Sami Hyypia left, I’ve been cheering for Srktel to score from a corner or free kick. I’ve seen some sweet goals from Agger. I’ve even seen Carragher score (and he’s only scored 5 in 594 matches). In the pub, we used to yell for Sami Hyypia to put one back whenever he came forward to try and get his head on the end of a set piece. There’s something extra special about watching a defender put one away. And once Sami left, I wanted to see Skrtel get his first off a set play. Well, it finally went in for him on Saturday. And it wasn’t even a header. The six-foot-four-inch Slovakian knocked Steven Gerrard’s free kick home with his left foot. At the time I was elated.
In retrospect I think the timing may have been awful.
Skrtel put Liverpool up one-nil in the 50th minute against Manchester City. But City’s goals in the 69th and the 76th were scored by unmarked players in the box. Skrtel gave Adebayor acres of space allowing the big man from Togo to head in the equalizer off a corner. Then, later, he left Stephen Ireland completely unmarked, allowing City to score a second. In a game where Liverpool looked dominant throughout, City clawed their way back into it. And Martin Skrtel should have been in place to prevent that.
In the first half, our defense seemed on top of everything, despite the small heart attack we all had when Agger came off in the 11th minute. (When you’ve already got your three best centre backs on the pitch because of defensive injuries, it really feels like the planets are aligned against you when one of them comes off after 11 minutes of play.) I really thought we were finally showing that defensive chemistry we’d been missing for most of the season. Carragher, Krygiacos, Skrtel and Insua were reading each other’s intentions as well as their attackers. This is what we’ve been missing.
But then Skrtel scored. And from that point on it was like his head was already at the pub celebrating while his body remained on the pitch to defend. Even if I’d never seen a football or a net before, if you stuck me on the pitch five minutes after my spaceship had landed and told me to help defend a corner kick against Manchester City, I think I could figure out that cutting off the space between Adebayor and the goal was my chief responsibility.
If only Lucas had been on the end of that first Liverpool goal and Skrtel had been on the end of the header Lucas put off target at the end. Skrtel’s first Liverpool goal should have been a late winner or the fourth in a four-nil massacre. He just wasn’t ready to score a beaut and get back to his defensive responsibilities for forty more minutes. Thankfully, Yossi Benayoun secured us a point before limping off the pitch. But I feel certain if anyone but Skrtel scored that first one, we would have kept our clean sheet.
Of course you can’t tell Skrtel that at the time: “Don’t score here, Martin. It could screw things up later on.” A player must take his goals when he can get them and Skrtel’s goal was a great one and much needed at the time. Hopefully the aftermath stands as a learning experience for the 24-year-old. Next time he scores for Liverpool, he needs to keep his head in the game. Take your run. Do your dance or cheer or whatever. Then get your head together and get back in position and get back to work. Hopefully, he gets to show he’s learned this today, against Debrecen.