Fears Martin Skrtel could be out for the rest of the season were allayed by the club after a specialist confirmed he won’t need surgery on a damaged knee. He could be playing again by Christmas.
The joy of Liverpool’s inspirational 3-2 win over Manchester City on Sunday was dampened somewhat at the sight of Skrtel being given pain relief on the pitch at Eastlands before being stretchered off. When an early scan showed he’d damaged a posterior cruciate ligament there were fears it could be the start of a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
He underwent a further scan on Tuesday however, and the specialist was able to confirm that the injury will be best treated without an operation. Ian Cotton, Liverpool’s chief press officer, said: “Martin was examined by a specialist today, who confirmed the player does not require surgery and is expected to be back playing by Christmas.”
Skrtel’s absence means Daniel Agger once again has a chance of regaining his regular place in the starting line-up, a place he lost after spending most of last season out with a metatarsal injury. It also means more possibilities for Sami Hyypia be involved in games, although that doesn’t include European games, after Rafa decided to leave him out of the Champions League squad in the face of restrictions on the number of players not “home grown”.
Rafa had a lot of praise for Skrtel, telling the club’s official site: “To lose a player who is doing well is always a problem. It’s bad news, but we have other options. Martin has learned a lot. He already had good qualities and potential when we decided to bring him here.”
He says Skrtel has got better since arriving at Anfield in January: “We had a lot of confidence in him but you can always improve, especially playing alongside experienced players and working under the staff here. He has done that. He has given me a selection headache this season but that is a good problem for me as a manager.”
Rafa also had a lot of praise for another of this year’s new signings, Albert Riera. The Spanish winger has just got a call-up to the Spanish squad to fill in for injuries, but it was no surprise to Rafa to see him brought in: “People maybe don’t realise the situation and how well he’s playing. I could tell you he’s doing really well and leave it at that, but you also have to remember that since he’s been here the games have been United, Everton and Man City away. That makes how he’s doing even more impressive.”
Liverpool now have five players in the Spanish squad, with Riera joining up with Pepe Reina, Xabi Alonso, Alvara Arbeloa and Fernando Torres. Rafa accepts Riera still has work to do to break into the squad regularly, but believes it’s possible he can do this: “Spain has a very good group of players, so it’s not easy, but he can be there. If he keeps playing well here, it will be easy for him.” Rafa was referring to how Riera will benefit from being involved in Premier League and Champions League football in general.
Liverpool’s good start to the season in terms of results hasn’t all been down to good performances. But this season – so far at least – Liverpool seem to have got the mixture of quality, determination, confidence and luck that any title challenge depends on. But Rafa is keen to ensure the confidence doesn’t turn to complacency or cockiness. “We have a long, long way to go. We have to do things properly both now, in one month’s time and in three months’ time. We can have a lot of confidence in ourselves but we must keep our feet on the ground.”
He’s discussed it with the squad, who he says know what’s ahead of them: “We were talking about this before, although we can enjoy being at the top of the table. But the players know we must keep going until the end. You can’t win a title now – you can only win it at the end of the season.”
He no doubt enjoyed the manner of Liverpool’s victory on Sunday, the determination that saw them turn a 2-0 deficit into a win, but he’d prefer not to have to go through that kind of game if possible: “If I had to decide between a game like City and a simple 2-0, I’d always choose 2-0. That would be better for my heart!”