On August 25th, arguably Liverpool’s biggest transfer saga since Fernando Torres came to a refreshing conclusion, with the capture of Real Madrid’s Nuri Şahin falling in the club’s favour – to the vitriol of many concerned Gunners. Şahin signed on loan for a fee of £1.6million, with Liverpool paying £75,000 per week of his wages; equating to a total financial cost of £5.6million for the season ahead. For the next 12 months at least, Liverpool have secured a player that most hope will finally fill the void, at least in the short term, left 3 years ago by the departure of Xabi Alonso.
Şahin may only be here for a minute 12 months, but his ambitions for the club could speedily etch his name into Liverpool folklore, with Champions League qualification the minimum target for the year ahead.
Career Path and Eventual Move to Liverpool
Nuri Şahin is a 24-year-old German born Turkish centre midfielder, who has made 33 appearances for the Turkish national team, scoring 2 goals in the process. Liverpool’s new number 4 began his club career at Borussia Dortmund, signing on for the youth team at a ripe age of 11-years-old. Şahin remained at Dortmund until just after the 2010/11 concluded, having won the Bundesliga and being voted the “best player of the season in the Bundesliga”.
His performances for Dortmund prompted an immediate €10million to Real Madrid, where he penned a five-year contract. The Turkish international went on to only make 4 league appearances for Madrid in his debut year, as his form and availability were riddled by recurrent ligament injuries, particularly to his knees.
Having won the 2011/12 La Liga title without any major contribution from Şahin, José Mourinho decided it was best for the Turkish international to move abroad for the season to regain form and confidence and return to Madrid ready to challenge Alonso, Khedira and recent signing Modric for a first team place.
• Bundesliga’s youngest ever goal scorer (17 years and 82 days old)
• European Under-17 Football Championship (2005)
• Bundesliga Champion (2010-11)
• Bundesliga Player of the Season (2010-11)
• European Sport Magazine’s Team of the Year (2010-11)
As Nuri Şahin only featured 4 times for Real Madrid in La Liga last season, it’d be inaccurate to use such a small sample size of data to undertake a proper analysis of the player. Instead, Şahin’s 2010/11 Dortmund contribution is preferred.
Playing a deep lying – Alonso-esque role – Şahin caught the attention of top flight European clubs when he helped propel Dortmund to the 2010/11 summit, scoring 6 goals and contributing 8 assists in 30 league appearances.
Şahin Compared to the Attacking League Benchmark
Using EPLIndex’s brilliant “Top Stats” feature, I composed the following tabular summary of the top attacking contributors in the Premier League last season compared with Nuri Sahin in 2010/11.
*Note: Besides Luka Modric, Danny Murphy (76 chances) was the closest ranked “deep lying” player in the entire Premier League to create chances anywhere near as frequently as Nuri Sahin.
As you can see from the table above, Nuri Sahin ranked the top performer in 3 out of the 6 attacking categories. Şahin effectively contributed 14 goals for Dortmund in 2010/11, effectively double that of 2008/09 £30m Xabi Alonso and almost double £33m Luka Modric’s 4 goals, 4 assists last season.
Despite playing a more withdrawn midfield role than David Silva and Juan Mata, Şahin managed the same amount of goals in his title-winning season in Germany. However, this means little without a relative frequency context. In this regard, Sahin (431) was only 11 minutes per goal slower than 2nd placed Mata (420) and 36 minutes faster than Silva in goal scoring regularity. Liverpool’s talismanic captain, Steven Gerrard, topped the charts with a goal every 244 minutes, despite scoring only 5 goals for the season.
Şahin created 104 chances for his teammates, more than any other player in the Bundesliga, at a rate of a chance created every 25 minutes. To put this in perspective, Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso created only 66 chances in his last season for Liverpool, at a rate of a chance every 39 minutes. Furthermore, Şahin created a chance as frequently as Juan Mata (every 25 minutes), which would have placed Şahin as the most creative midfielder in the league last season alongside the more attacking Juan Mata.
Furthermore, Şahin’s passing capacity and ability to read the game is emphasized by the unity of his frequent chance creation and assists. Although Sahin made less than half the assists of David Silva (a player who also won the league), it is important to view this in the context of the team each played for. In Dortmund’s title winning season, the club only scored 64 goals, of which Sahin assisted 8 (12.5%). In comparison, Manchester City scored an incredible 91 goals, with David Silva assisting 17 (18.7%). Thus, although David Silva amassed almost twice the assists of Liverpool’s new midfield maestro, he mathematically only contributed ~6% more assists to his team.
In the context of the article’s title, Sahin compares very well to Liverpool favourite Xabi Alonso’s last season at Liverpool in terms of attacking contribution metrics. The Turkish midfielder doubled the Spanish playmaker in both goals and assists, and created a chance for his Dortmund teammates 36% faster.
Şahin Compared to the Defensive League Benchmark
Evidently from the table above, Nuri Şahin will add much needed steel to the Liverpool midfield. As Liverpool fans are well aware, Lucas Leiva is a defensive stalwart, the essential defensively minded player in the club’s midfield engine that regains the ball effortlessly and recycles possession. As expected, Lucas comes in at first for tackling and interception frequency, with a tackle every 15 minutes and an interception every 32 minutes, with the closest opponent from the creative table above being Nuri Şahin. The deep lying Turkish midfielder comes in a close second for both tackling and interception frequency, trailing Lucas by 8 and 6 minutes respectively. Attributable to his dynamism as a hybrid attacking-cum-defensively adept deep lying midfielder, Nuri completes a tackle (23 minutes) more often than David Silva (60 minutes), Luka Modric (57 minutes) and Steven Gerrard (51 minutes) – players originally comparable in the creative department.
Furthermore, Liverpool’s supreme defensive structure faltered in Lucas’ injury absence and the same fears returned when he was struck down by a quad injury. However, this season Liverpool would appear more able to replicate his defensive dexterity having added Joe Allen and Nuri Şahin to the midfield three.
Had Liverpool not signed Sahin and Allen, Liverpool’s midfielder three in Lucas’ absence could reasonably have been expected to compose of Gerrard and Adam, with Spearing occupying the deep role (a la pre-season). The improvement to the defensive capabilities of Liverpool’s midfield is apparent here, with Sahin and Allen both being individually superior tacklers and interceptors of the ball than Spearing and Adam.
Furthermore, Şahin also outpaced Xabi Alonso in the defensive department, making a tackle 6 minutes more frequently and an interception 20 minutes more frequently than the player fans have longed for the club to replace.
The Turkish midfielder possesses a kaleidoscope of talents, ranging from rivalling those at the pinnacle of the Premier League for creativity and defensive capabilities, to long range passing and shooting. The hallmarks of his game include – what can best be described as – Alonso’s crisp and penetratingly accurate long balls to the strikers over, or through, the back four, but without Charlie Adam’s Hollywood-like ill-discipline.
Moreover, Rodgers will undoubtedly value Şahin’s vision. Nuri is an incredibly aware player who quickly notices breaking runs by teammates, which allows him to sharply pass into space, or to switch flanks to capitalise on the threatening runs. He passes with power, finesse and penetration to ensure the ball gets to his target, but so often tries long balls to faraway players that his passing accuracy suffers, sitting at a lowly 76%.
Şahin will be a vital addition to the Liverpool midfield, especially considering that Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, Charlie Adam and Jay Spearing scored 7 goals as a collective from midfield in the League last season. Furthermore, similarly to Gylfi Sigurdsson, Şahin possesses the ability to shoot with power and curl and is more than able to test the goalmouth from long range, evidence by a number of top corner finishes from range for Dortmund.
For those requiring a visual of the player, here’s an excellent mashup of Şahin’s qualities during his time at Dortmund and Real Madrid by Twitter’s @GreenScouser:
Although premature, Nuri Şahin could be considered the Xabi Alonso replacement we never had. Not only is he statistically comparable – if not superior – to Xabi Alonso, but there’s a certain romanticism about the transfer that exceeds stylistic similarities, with Alonso himself playing a large role in persuading the Turkish international to join Liverpool.
Further, Liverpool could’ve done a lot worse than signing a player who should’ve arguably been a first team competitor to Xabi Alonso for Madrid last season, but for numerous recurring injury complications. Şahin will bring with him determination, dynamism and versatility in midfield that should serve Liverpool’s paper-thin squad well over the course of his 12-month loan deal. His passing, attacking and defensive prowess, coupled with Gerrard’s all round talents and Allen’s guile could prove a dangerous trinity in midfield for Liverpool. The Turkish international is a League winner and a high achiever whose personal ambition should help propel Liverpool towards attaining the ultimate goal of Champions League qualification. Welcome to Liverpool Football Club Nuri Şahin.