There may be nothing that Martin Skrtel, favoured defensive scapegoat for some, can do to ever prove he deserves a place in the starting eleven of a Liverpool side good enough to challenge for league and European honours. At least not if two goals and a strong defensive showing against then league leaders Arsenal isn't enough. However, after being amongst those who didn't believe in Skrtel last year, manager Brendan Rodgers appears clearly to have been won over by him these past few months.
"He's a class act," began Rodgers at his pre-Fulham press conference as Liverpool prepare for a rare mid-week fixture in the league, one that gives them the chance to prove they can deliver against teams further down the table after Saturday's strong showing against a side near the top. "It is big credit to him. I brought in a way I wanted to work, on the training pitch and in games, and for the second half of last season he didn't feature. He had a choice to either throw his toys out of the pram or to sit down and see what areas he needed to improve in."
Coming off a season where he was Liverpool's player of the year under Kenny Dalglish and Steve Clarke, Skrtel's form nosedived thanks to the demands of Rodgers' high defensive line and the need to play a more intricate passing game, even from the back. Many were content to count him out, particularly with the arrival of Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure over the summer, but having stuck it out, Skrtel is now reaping the rewards and has Rodgers saying he's amongst the best centre halves in the league—just like he was two years ago.
"Now you see a player with great intelligence in his defence," added the manager. "His use of the ball is composed and he has taken on a real leadership role. His performance levels have consistently been of a high level, and he is up there with the top centre halves in this league, and I'm delighted for him."