MUCH has been made about Jamie Carragher’s return to the starting line-up with most pointing to Carragher’s organisational influence as a major factor in sorting out a defence that has looked too porous too often this season.
Indeed, since he displaced Martin Skrtel at the core of the reds back line, the veteran has never looked likely to move back to the bench in place of the Slovakian powerhouse.
Carragher has been a constant in Liverpool teams over the last 15 years and his reputation is one that has been built on some great nights and days against some fearsome opponents. The term ‘no nonsense’ is an apt description of the manner in which the Bootle born bully has repelled those seeking to pierce Liverpool’s rearguard. If there were a man of steel award in football, Carragher would surely have been a regular challenger for such an accolade.
Some may even be prepared to believe that he was actually sculpted from molten metal. There’s no doubting that many strikers have felt the wrath of Liverpool’s iron giant and his steely performances since his return appear to have galvanised a frequently suspect defence.
The jilted party is Skrtel with a reputation among fans as a hard man. With his Skeletor face, Skrtel looks like a man you do not want to trouble. The bald head, the stern eyes and 6ft 3” of tattooed intimidation combine to construct an extremely frightening figure. But while his appearance may well be that of a top class centre-half, his performances this season have not quite matched his looks. In fact, his reputation has been harmed by the ease with which he has been battered by some of the league’s more physical opponents.
So let’s look at some stats for how Carragher and Skrtel match up in the league this season:
*Liverpool score on the left
|Opponent||Score *||Opponent||Score *|
|Arsenal||2-2||WBA||0-3||total goals conceded||
|Man City||2-2||Man City||2-2||total clean sheets||
|WBA||0-2||Arsenal||0-2||total goals scored||
|Swansea||5-0||Sunderland||1-1||goals conceded per game||
|Wigan||4-0||Man Utd||1-2||clean sheet %||
|Spurs||3-2||Norwich||5-2||goals scored per game||
|A. Villa||2-1||Stoke||0-0||win %||
|W Ham||0-0||Reading||1-0||loss %||
|Reading||0-0||Everton||2-2||points per game||
|Everton||0-0||Swansea||0-0||total goals conceded||
|Chelsea||1-1||Spurs||1-2||total clean sheets||
|Southampton||1-0||total goals scored||
|W Ham||3-2||goals conceded per game||
|A. Villa||1-3||clean sheet %||
|Fulham||4-0||goals scored per game||
|Sunderland||3-0||points per game||
The defensive record of Liverpool with Skrtel in the team this season is nothing exceptional. In his 22 league starts Liverpool have kept 8 clean sheets with a clean sheet percentage of 36.36%. Liverpool have also conceded 35 total goals in those games making an average of 1.59 goals per game conceded.
When one considers that Liverpool have let in 35 goals in the remaining 14 games if you remove the clean sheets, then a defence containing the Slovak has allowed an average of 2.5 goals per game if the team fails to keep a clean sheet. This is a pretty staggering statistic. In effect, when Skrtel has played and Liverpool have failed to keep a clean sheet, the Reds on average have needed to score 3 goals minimum to win the game.
If we look at Skrtel’s record against the teams that will likely finish above us in the league (highlighted in yellow), LFC have shipped 12 goals in the 6 games he has started in, with those teams scoring twice on each occasion. His record is also 2 draws and 4 defeats from those games. While of course it is the team performance as a whole that obtains results, Liverpool’s record with the Slovakian hard man this season has not been good enough.
What is perhaps even worse for him is that Liverpool’s win percentage in the league has been just 36.36% when he has started, an unacceptable return for any Liverpool side.
By comparison, since Jamie Carragher forced his way back into the reckoning Liverpool’s fortunes have changed. In his total 14 Premier League starts Liverpool have boasted 7 clean sheets a 50% clean sheet record. They have also only given the opposition 12 goals in those 14 matches at a rate of 0.86 goals per game.
If we again remove those clean sheets, the team has given up 1.71 goals per game meaning that they only need to score 2 goals on average when they have failed to stop their opponent scoring.
Turning once more to the record against the teams that are above us, Carragher has also played 6 games. This surprising statistic means his record is skewed against him as a greater proportion of his starts have come against stronger opposition. The Reds have let 9 goals in during those 12 matches with a record of 1 win and 5 draws. So Liverpool have converted a record of not being able to win against rivals when Skrtel was in the starting line-up, to a team that is unbeaten against those teams since Carragher replaced him.
Overall, LFC’s total win percentage is 42% with Carragher in the team, not fantastic but equally they have only lost one game in his 14 starts and are currently on a 9 game unbeaten run.
It would not be particularly fair to hold Liverpool’s attacking records against Skrtel, primarily because Carragher has had the benefit of playing in a team containing January signings Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho. However for the sake of completeness, we can see that Liverpool have scored just 30 times in the 22 games starting Skrtel at a rate of 1.36 goals per game. Carragher on the other hand, has overseen 32 goals in his 14 games at a rate of 2.2 goals per game.
The statistics do not always bear a true reflection of the realities of the player or of the team but the difference between two defenders this season is too stark not to put any weight behind it. Of course Skrtel is disadvantaged by the early games this season where the team had to adapt to Brendan Rodgers’ style of play, though had it not been for his back pass against Man City he would have registered a win against one of the teams above us.
However, Skrtel’s reputation is stained by his results against Aston Villa, Stoke, West Brom and Everton. In those matches Skrtel came up against strong imposing forwards in the shape of Benteke, Crouch and Walters, Lukaku and Fellaini and he was embarrassed on most occasions.
Against those teams Skrtel’s Liverpool registered 2 draws and 3 defeats allowing 11 goals to be plundered by the opposition in 5 games. In Carragher’s 3 games Liverpool mustered a win, a draw and a loss against Aston Villa, Everton and West Brom respectively. Neither of these records are good but again the wily Scouser trumps his younger team mate.
All this does not bode well for a man who could be tasked with renewing his partnership with Daniel Agger next season. That a retiring player, whose peak has passed, eased him out of the team quite comfortably must be worrying for the centre-back. The question for Brendan Rodgers is whether he believes Skrtel can recapture the form that made him such a sought after signature last summer, or whether it is time to find a new man who is cast from the same substance as Jamie Carragher.
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