It can't just be about playing with Daniel Agger, as in recent weeks he has seemed to outshine even his highly regarded Danish teammate, though perhaps that the partnership allows him to now consistently play on his favoured right side could be part of it.
It isn't entirely a surprise, either, as in his early days at Liverpool he was for many the man who would replace Jamie Carragher; a confident, physical defender set to anchor the defence for years to come. Only, as has so often been the case with Liverpool's attempts to secure their future in defence, a serious injury would deal a seemingly insurmountable blow to the plan—his knee failing against Manchester City during Liverpool's title-challenging 2008-09 season.
Since the arrival of defensive guru Steve Clarke alongside Kenny Dalglish in January, however, there has been a slow but steady, long-awaited return to that early form that saw Martin Skrtel convince as the man to lead Liverpool in defence. Over the past month, though, he has perhaps not only surpassed his defensive partner but also his heady form from early in his Liverpool career. Now, in fact, there may not be a better defensive pairing in the league than Agger and Skrtel—and there may not be a better centre half than Skrtel.
It's not just in defence where Skrtel has performed exceptionally of late, either, with his confidence on the ball a more than welcome bonus to what he's brought in defence this season. He may not quite have the ability in possession that Daniel Agger does, but he has hardly been embarrassed on that front by his more offensively-gifted counterpart. Of particular note has been his intelligent use of long, targeted passes when given the chance, displays of vision and execution that, had they been made by a player with more of an attacking reputation, would end up in every post-match highlight package.
Taken in its entirety, it would be difficult to argue Liverpool would be better today starting a summer transfer target such as Scott Dann, Phil Jones, or Gary Cahill in his place, and should Skrtel's current level of performance—be it the result of partnership, coaching, or that he has finally recovered from any lingering mental or physical effects of his knee injury in 2008—turn out to be a more permanent next step in his development and not just a temporary boost, then the thought of the club seeking another top defender in the coming transfer windows is nigh on unthinkable.
For years, fans have clamoured for Skrtel and Agger to get their chance to stake a claim as the club's future in defence, only for a combination of injuries and—occasionally—other players' seniority to stand in the way. Now it's almost impossible to imagine there was a time not too long ago when the thought of easing Carragher away from the starting eleven was met with hand wringing and concerns that nobody at the club could possibly marshal the backline in his absence, least of all an at times shaky Skrtel.
He's had his chance now and taken it with both hands. And with Jose Enrique fading over the past month, Lucas' unfortunate injury, and Luis Suarez struggling to add a pile of goals to his otherwise captivating play, Liverpool might just have its latest and strongest contender for player of the season so far as a new year and this term's half-way point approach.
Video by LumixGoals via LFC in HD