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Fantasy follow-up: Week 18

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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

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By ESPN Staff

Defender Skrtel prepared for Liverpool debut

Martin Skrtel could get his first taste of the Anfield atmosphere as Liverpool prepare to face Aston Villa on Monday.

The Midlanders are right in the heart of the pack trying to snatch fourth place from Liverpool, and the visit of Martin O'Neill's emerging side could be pivotal to the troubled Anfield club's season.

And Liverpool's only acquisition in the current transfer window - Slovakia defender Skrtel - has proved his fitness sufficiently to be considered.

Boss Rafael Benitez, who has been impressed with Skrtel's first week at the club, said: 'I am really pleased with him and am thinking about using him now.

'He can be available against Villa, in the FA Cup next weekend or maybe in the reserve game against Wigan on Tuesday. But he is certainly one of the options for the Villa game on Monday.'

The FA Cup fourth round home tie with non-league Havant and Waterlooville would be a more gentle introduction for the Slovak, but with Daniel Agger again out with a recurrence of his metatarsal injury, Skrtel could well find himself on the bench against Villa, at least.

A £6.5m signing from Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg, he had not trained for a fortnight ahead of his move to Anfield and had not played for a month.

But he has since been put through his paces by Benitez's fitness staff.

Not included against Middlesbrough or Luton in Liverpool's last two games, the giant defender could be about to make his debut in front of the Kop.

And he cannot wait, saying: 'To be the first Slovak to play for Liverpool makes me very happy. Not many Slovakian players have had the opportunity to play in the English league. I have and I will give it everything to succeed here.

'I can't wait to play at Anfield. The stadium is beautiful and Liverpool have got the best supporters in England, if not the world. I can't wait to play there for the first time.'

Skrtel avoided the now customary boast at his unveiling that he had always supported the Reds. However, he revealed he is all too aware of goings on at Anfield over the last few years.

He said: 'I know about the great history of Liverpool and the tradition. Watching the Champions League final when Liverpool played AC Milan in Istanbul left a big impression on me.

'That type of game doesn't happen every day. I watched it on the television and I thought at half-time, 'that's it'.

'What happened in the second-half was absolutely unbelievable.' Skrtel also arrived with the high praise of boss Rafael Benitez who has compared his style to Jamie Carragher - a plaudit the player is very happy to accept.

He said: 'I obviously knew about Jamie before I came here. He is a very good player and it's a compliment for me to be compared to him. 'The manager has told me he will give me time to improve my fitness and fit in and I know about how tough the competition for places is here.

'That is a good thing for a club to have and I will give it my very best. 'I will be working as hard as I can so I can get into the squad and I will also try to learn to speak English as soon as possible.'