Martin Skrtel has been a loyal asset to the Liverpool Football Club over the past eight and a half years, but the 2015-2016 season was subpar for the Slovakian. A mainstay in the center back under coach Brendan Rodgers, Skrtel was relegated to the bench for the second-half of the season behind Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure. The change came after injuring his hamstring in Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat against Watford F.C. in December. Skrtel made 28 appearances (21 in the Premier League) but a vast majority of these were before his injury. At 31 years old, Skrtel’s lack of playing time under Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp has led him to seek greener pastures while he still has some sell-on value.
Skrtel’s performances throughout the season were largely a mixed bag. He had a number of matches where is defending was abhorrent (like the defeats against Southampton and Manchester United), but he also had a few strong performances, including the Reds’ 4-1 victory against Manchester City. Between 23 appearances in the Premier League and the Europa League, Skrtel averaged 0.9 tackles, 1.7 interceptions, 5.9 clearances, and one foul per match. Skrtel’s tendency to rely on last ditch defending rather than a front footed proactive approach is inherently risky and does not mesh well with Klopp’s defensive tactics. Klopp prefers to play a high line where the defense is supposed to push up close to the halfway line, but Skrtel’s habit of constantly backing up when challenged by fast defenders rather than holding the line and being aggressive causes problems for the Reds defense. In addition, this form of defending is incredibly ineffective—exemplified by Anthony Martial’s goal against the Reds in October. Skrtel’s numbers are clear evidence of this strategy as he attempted 51 fewer challenges than Sakho in the same number of league appearances. Further, the Slovakian made an astounding 66 fewer recoveries of possession than his teammate. Skrtel was unwilling to change his defensive style to fit his new manager’s defensive strategy, a key reason behind his inability to regain his spot in the team. Skrtel’s inconsistency clearly did not make the cut under Klopp, and the German made it clear that Skrtel is not a part of his future plans at Anfield.
Skrtel’s eight years at Liverpool have been much appreciated by fans, but it is clear that his time at the club should be coming to an end. Klopp is well aware that Skrtel no longer has the ability to be a top-notch defender at a club with aspirations of winning the league and being a force in Europe. After signing a new three-year contract extension last season, Skrtel is now under contract through the 2018 season. Even though he is on a pricey £75,000 per week wage, the Slovakian still has some value on the transfer market. Turkish champions Besiktas have been mooted as one potential destination and Liverpool may be able to recoup upwards of £6m in a potential transfer. Skrtel has been a loyal servant to the Reds, but I am sure fans will not be too unhappy at the prospect of not having to see Skrtel virtually ripping the jersey off his marker on corners. Skrtel’s decline has been clear for all to see and with the rise of Lovren, Sakho and Joe Gomez along with the arrival of Joel Matip, it is difficult to argue that Skrtel would be any higher than Klopp’s fifth choice at the start of next season. Clearing the Slovakian’s costly wages off the budget would provide more money for contract extensions and transfers while clearing a spot for a younger player to force his way onto the first team. In addition, Skrtel would have the ability to finish off his career playing every week rather than having to sit on the bench. A summer transfer likely to take place because it would benefit both parties.