Nuri Sahin has only impressed in patches so far this term, but is the fact that he’s been unable to hit the ground running in the way many would have hoped a cause for concern, or do we simply need to be more patient with him?
The 24-year-old Turkey international moved to Anfield in the summer after Arsenal baulked at the £2.8m loan fee that Real Madrid were demanding, on top of paying 70% of his £90k-per-week wages, making the move cost approximately £6.2m in total. Arsene Wenger withdrew his interest at the eleventh hour after the Spanish giants withdrew a £14m agreed buyout clause in his contract, due to the lack of security and protection the club were given if the deal happened to be a success, which allowed Liverpool to swoop.
The concern is that in the three games this season where the side have needed him to step up the most, against Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton, that he’s gone missing for prolonged periods and there’s a worry that he may be a little too similar to Joe Allen, but lacking the Welshman’s neat turn of pace to get away from his marker to be able to make an impact in the top flight, a suspicion long-since held before he came to these shores.
There’s no denying that he’s been tidy in possession, as a 92% pass completion rate against Arsenal will testify to, but he always seems to be the sacrificial lamb in games of importance. He was taken off in the 66th minute against the north London side, in the 59th minute against Chelsea and at half-time after a truly anonymous performance in the Merseyside derby during which he made just seven passes for a 54% completion rate, so why has he struggled so much?
The knock-on effect of Lucas Leiva’s injury is still being felt in the side and it’s played a part in both Allen and Sahin’s form dropping off to an extent, as they’ve had to occupy deeper roles than they may have been comfortable with. The Brazilian is back in full training now after recovering from a morale-sapping thigh injury and could return to the starting eleven over the next couple of weeks.
During his Borussia Dortmund pomp, Sahin dictated the play from deep, protected by the brute force of Sebastien Kehl or Sven Bender at different times, and he was granted more time on the ball to thread his intricate passes from range, which quickly became his trademark. However, after an injury-disrupted season spent sat largely on the bench at Real Madrid, dusting off the cobwebs after he had just gotten used to a slightly slower league in terms of tempo must be difficult and a transition period was inevitable.
You sense that Sahin would be a lot more comfortable in the role at the tip of the midfield trio just behind Suarez, a position he did well in against Norwich during the 5-2 win at Carrow Road where he is just behind the opposition’s midfield and away from the hustle and bustle to a larger degree, in a position where he can influence play more.
There’s also the fact that the club are competing in Europe this term and due to the small nature of the squad, had they just been focusing on their domestic campaign, Sahin would likely have featured more often and on a consistent week-to-week basis, but due to the thin nature of the squad, rotation is essential so that Rodgers has enough options for both competitions and Sahin’s form may have suffered at the hands of the constant chopping and changing as he tries to adapt to a new culture and climate.
At the moment, with Jose Mourinho likely to want to sell in the summer, utilising the loan market was merely a way of driving Sahin’s price up, and Liverpool remain in the driving seat for his signature, but a fee around the £14m mark would simply not be feasible, particularly as his performances simply haven’t justified such a significant outlay as of yet. Unfortunately, performances such as the two-goal match-winning display against West Brom in the Capital One Cup have been the exception rather than the rule so far.
His quality and pedigree are undeniable, but he hasn’t fully settled just yet, which if the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Suso and Raheem Sterling hadn’t performed unexpectedly well this term for such young players, would have been much more of a problem. The jury is out on whether he has the ability to successfully integrate himself into the English game, and while it is still early days, he’ll need to do more as the season wears on if he wants to secure a permanent move to Anfield in the summer, even if his slow start up until this point is somewhat understandable.