With Liverpool set to face Everton on Saturday and plenty of discussion about who Brendan Rodgers will play at the back, centre half and likely starter Martin Skrtel is staying focused on keeping Liverpool in line for a top four finish—and with keeping himself in the starting eleven now that he's forced his way back in and despite the intense competition for minutes at the back.
"After last season I worked very hard during pre-season to try to get back into the team," Skrtel told the Echo. "Then I picked up a knee injury so it wasn’t easy for me, but I tried to stay positive and I was saying to myself ‘just wait for your chance.’ I recovered well and got that chance against Manchester United. I felt it was an opportunity to prove to people and to the manager that I am able to play.
"Of course our strong start to the season helped too. As a player it’s always better for you when you are going into a team which is doing well. Now I am just trying hard to keep myself in the team, and that’s not easy with six centre-backs competing for two or three places."
With all the talk in recent weeks of Liverpool's strength in defensive depth coming from Anfield veterans Skrtel and Daniel Agger and newcomers Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho, it's been easy to overlook that the club still has Tiago Ilori and Sebastian Coates—though the latter remains on injury reserve—on the books, plus Andre Wisdom currently out on loan.
It makes for a crowded backline and will have played a role in the longevity of Brendan Rodgers' 3-5-2 after necessity forced its initial introduction. Against a physical threat like Everton's Romelu Lukaku, there's even a chance it will return this weekend. Whatever happens, though, Skrtel insists that despite the heightened competition this season, he appreciates what the new defensive signings bring to the table.
"Since [Sakho] came to Liverpool he has shown us he’s a great player," he said. "[He's] strong on the pitch and strong mentally as well. I know myself from when I arrived at Liverpool that it’s difficult when you come to a new country. Everything is new for you but when I speak to Mamadou his English is improving all the time."
Toure, too, has played a major role in Liverpool's early season success, even if like many fans his initial signing had left Skrtel a touch puzzled: "Kolo is a big character as well. I think a lot of people were perhaps surprised when Liverpool signed him but from the first day he has shown everyone how good he is."
In the end, though, whoever starts at the back both over the weekend and the coming weeks, Skrtel is convinced this is a Liverpool side that will be able to keep themselves near the top of the table. That after the lean recent years, this is a side with enough strength and self-belief to force their way back into the top echelon of English football and back into Europe's top competition.
"A good start was something we targeted and prepared for," added Skrtel. "But the season is very long and we just go from game to game trying to get as many points as possible. All of us believe that this season we can stay towards the top positions and get back into Europe. To play in the Champions League is the dream for every player.
"I have been here at Liverpool for six years and it’s been a great six years for me. Playing for such an illustrious club like Liverpool for six years is something any footballer would be proud of. I will be 29 in December, I have a contract here for three more years, and I am very happy. I will keep striving to do my best and see what that time brings."
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