After a summer of speculation in which it seemed Martin Skrtel’s five-and-a-half-year stay at Anfield would come to an end, the Slovakian defender was hooked back from the exit door when Liverpool rejected a £10million bid from Napoli in late August.
Then, after new first-choice center-back Kolo Toure was injured in last week’s League Cup win over Notts County, the 28-year-old was given the chance to impress the fans and Brendan Rodgers with a start against arch-rivals Manchester United on Sunday.
Skrtel was a commanding presence in Liverpool’s resolute back four.
A stage to impress on, if ever there was one, facing the old enemy at such an early stage of the season, even more so in front of the Kop ahead of the backdrop of a celebration that accompanied the 100th birthday of Bill Shankly.
Perhaps a daunting task too for an out-of-favor player who was being handed his first league start since March and, renewing his central pairing with Daniel Agger at the heart of a defense that had kept clean sheets in the first two league games of this campaign.
Skrtel would also be faced with the demanding challenge of keeping a certain Robin Van Persie quiet for the afternoon.
If Skrtel didn’t succeed in doing that then it was only because Van Persie felt the need to continuously vent his spleen, as the Dutch striker was completely nullified by Liverpool’s backline, particularly Skrtel, who on more than one occasion was the target of the Dutchman’s vitriol.
Of all the people to pick a fight with, Van Persie certainly didn’t make a wise choice but the hardman from Handlová chose not to retaliate.
The striker’s frustration was merely a testimony to the fantastic job that Skrtel was doing in containing him.
Skrtel outworked and out-muscled United’s talisman and, along with Agger, restricted Van Persie to only one clear-cut opportunity which came during the 87th minute but was squandered from a tight angle on his weaker right foot.
That just about summed up his afternoon, whilst Skrtel’s prosperity was the polar opposite.
Composed throughout, well-positioned, commanding in the air, and making a number of vital blocks, Skrtel showed form on Sunday afternoon that was reminiscent of the player who was named Standard Chartered Player of the Season in 2011-2012.
With the home side hanging on at the end and one minute of Moyes time remaining until victory was confirmed, Liverpool won a free-kick deep in their own half.
To punctuate his performance, Skrtel lofted the ball down-field to concede a harmless United throw a yard from their corner flag.
Ironically, it was roughly a year ago in a home fixture with a Manchester side when Skrtel made a costly mistake that initially put the spotlight on his consistency when he made a calamitous error to gift Manchester City a late equalizer as his under-hit back pass fell into the path of Carlos Tevez.
A series of below-par showings from the Slovakian then saw him dropped in favor of Jamie Carragher midway through the season, a position that was cemented when Skrtel’s return to the starting line-up came in the form of the dismal display in the FA Cup defeat by Oldham Athletic.
One Man of the Match winning performance will likely not be enough for Skrtel to return to the first eleven.
Aside from the preferred Kolo Toure, the deadline day arrivals of Mamadou Sahko and Tiago Lori have increased competition for places at center-back.
What Skrtel did show against Manchester United however was that he can still be a valuable asset to our newly strengthened squad.
Even though he may not feature as often as he’d like to this season, if he performs like that when he does feature, then it was a fantastic decision not to let him go this summer.