The Art of Moving the Ball in the Midfield: Nuri Sahin vs. Norwich City

By Kevin Koczwara

Real Madrid got a steal when it signed Nuri Sahin from Borussia Dortmund for a reported €10 million in the summer of 2011. Sahin had just help lead a young and surging Dortmund side to the Bundesliga title, tearing through opponents in the process, and was named player of the year in Germany before Madrid activated the Turkey international’s buy-out clause in his contract.

The purchase was a bargain for Madrid, but Sahin endured a tough time in Spain’s capital as the midfield under Jose Mourinho is deep, to say the least. With the likes of Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira, Esteban Granero, Kaka (who currently can’t find playing time), Mesuit Ozil and Lassana Diarra taking up playing time, Sahin was way down the pecking order and had limited opportunities. Injuries hampered Sahin’s first season as well. But a move away from the Bernabeu was in the card’s this summer and Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool came calling with a loan move to help revitalize the 23-year-old’s career. It’s something Sahin jumped at and it looks like the move has begun to pay off for the midfielder and the team.

“Nuri was a wonderful player at a young age in Germany and did wonderfully well for Borussia Dortmund. He was German player of the year before he moved to Real Madrid,” Rodgers told the media Monday.

“He just found it hard to play through injury and was competing with in-form players like Khedira, Alonso and Diarra.

“He’s a master technician, he’s hungry and he wants to prove himself.”

Last week Sahin looked like he regained his confidence. He was in the the kind of form he played at for Dortmund — controlling the tempo of games while running the center of the midfield. In the midweek League Cup match, Sahin scored twice to lead a young Liverpool side to a 2-1 win at the Hawthornes and was named player of the match. He continued his fine form this weekend as Liverpool hammered Norwich City 5-2 at Carrow Road.

In 66 minutes at Carrow Road, which was only a few days after Sahin played a full 90 against West Brom, Sahin completed 48 of 55 passes (87.3 percent), won 75 percent of his duels and had three interceptions — the same amount as Joe Allen — from the advanced midfield position in the midfield three. Those are impressive numbers if you look at some of the touches he had during the game in this video it’s even more impressing.

The touch around the 40 second mark where he spins and shows one way but sends the ball another way is a perfect display if the kind of close-control Sahin has as well as his vision and decision making. He doesn’t do it to be flashy, but he does it to get the pass off quickly and effectively without leading the defense. This is the kind of passing required to shift defenses and keep them on their toes while Liverpool swings the ball from side to side looking for an opening.

At the 2:25 mark in the video Sahin tracks back, intercepts a pass, nutmegs a Norwich City player and then proceeds to hit a perfect outlet pass to Suarez. There isn’t much else to say except: “wow.” That’s the kind of play Rodgers wants. Someone who’s full of skill and intuitive play, but who’s also bursting with effort to win the ball back and find an outlet to move the ball quickly.

After the two performances this week, it’s hard to see Liverpool being able to afford Sahin come the summer if he continues to improve his match fitness and show what made him the Bundesliga’s best player just over a season ago. Madrid’s midfield is getting older and Mourinho is looking for a long-term replacement to succeed Alonso as the deep-lying playmaker, where Sahin operated for Dortmund, so the price will be high.

If Rodgers can get a great season from Sahin now, it will be well worth it for Liverpool because he makes this team that much better and completes the midfield trio that Rodgers wants and demands: tactically aware, skilled and hardworking. This is a midfield that can battle with any team in the league. If Rodgers can scrape the money together to afford Sahin on a permanent deal, Liverpool will have one of the most promising midfielders in all of the Premier League, and the team will be one player closer to becoming a competitor for the league title. Sahin is a game changer, and the kind of player Liverpool desperately needed to have.

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