MARTIN SKRTEL would be forgiven for treading particularly carefully when he steps out at White Hart Lane.
After all, the venue holds few happy memories for the Liverpool centre-back.
It was at Tottenham Hotspur in September last season that Skrtel suffered arguably his worst moment in a Liverpool shirt since his baptism of fire against Havant and Waterlooville in January 2008.
Asked to reprise a right-back stint that provided only misery at Middlesbrough in 2009, Skrtel experienced a similarly harrowing afternoon, driven to distraction by Gareth Bale and subsequently joining Charlie Adam in being dismissed as the visitors slumped to a 4-0 defeat.
Two years earlier, an accidental collision with Jamie Carragher led to a broken jaw in an opening-day 2-1 loss.
And as he prepares for his latest trip to Tottenham, Skrtel says: “I certainly don’t want to repeat what happened season because it was horrible.
“I didn’t play in my own position and I ended up getting sent off. The year before I broke my jaw after banging heads with Carra, but that is football and I have to forget about these things and look forward.”
Having been voted Liverpool’s player of the year last season, Skrtel endured a testing start to this campaign.
Responsible for conceding a soft penalty in the shock 3-0 loss at West Bromwich Albion, the Slovakia international then gifted Manchester City a point with a slack backpass that allowed Carlos Tevez through to earn the champions a scarcely-deserved 2-2 draw.
It was symptomatic of the teething troubles for new manager Brendan Rodgers. But Skrtel’s form has mirrored Liverpool’s gradual improvement, with the Anfield outfit this evening aiming to extend an eight-match unbeaten Premier League run.
“The start of the season wasn’t the best for me because there were a few games where my performance wasn’t the best and I made a few mistakes,” he admits.
“I just didn’t feel right but over the last couple of months I’ve felt that things have been getting better.
“We’ve kept a few clean sheets and gone eight games unbeaten so it’s definitely better now than it was earlier on.”
Skrtel adds: “There have been a few changes since the manager came here. Obviously, he tries to change the way we play, getting us to build the game from the back and so on.
“Maybe that was one of the reasons why things did not go so well from the start because it isn’t easy to change the way you play but now we’re getting more used to it and you can see that in our performances and results.”
The insistence on playing the ball out of defence has been attributed to Skrtel’s mistake against City.
And while it is a point the defender is willing to concede, he believes it was an individual rather than a tactical error that cost Liverpool a morale-boosting victory.
“The manager wants the defenders to build the game and to try to play with the keeper and maybe that was the reason for that backpass,” says the 27-year-old.
“I wanted to keep the ball so I tried to pass to Pepe but I hadn’t seen Tevez there. That was a bad moment for me. Perhaps if I’d been in the same position last season I would’ve just tried to play the ball forward because it’s easier.
“It’s not put me off keeping the ball, it just made me realise that I need to be more careful and watch my back in case anyone is there.
“It was just one moment and I have had to put it behind me. If the manager wants us to build from the back, that is what I will try to do.”
While Emmanuel Adebayor sits out through suspension, Skrtel will this evening hope to keep in check Jermaine Defoe, who has scored 10 goals for Tottenham this season including two in the 3-1 win over his former club West Ham United at the weekend.
The Liverpool man, though, has had good preparation given nearly every day is spent trying to stop the top-flight’s leading scorer: Luis Suarez.
“I know it is not easy to play against him,” says Skrtel. “He is unbelievable and I’m happy for him because he has started to score lots of goals.
“That’s good for him but it’s also good for us. From the first game he came here he showed that he is a great player but he could not always get the goals that he deserved, now that is happening and I hope that it carries on that way.
“He has everything that gives Premier League defenders nightmares and for me at this moment I think that he is the best striker in the league.
“For me it is a challenge every day, getting to play against him in training. We are always talking and challenging each other, he is trying to score and I am trying to stop him from scoring.
“It’s good for me to mark him and to try to stop him from scoring because if I can do that against the best striker in the Premier League it is good preparation for me.”