The Shinnie Debate – Left Back or Midfielder?

Since arriving at Pittodrie at the start of the 2015/2016 season Graeme Shinnie has quickly established himself as arguably the most crucial player in Derek McInnes’ side.  His abilities allow the Aberdeen manager to choose from various formation options, with Shinnie one week appearing at left back, and as a midfielder the next.

Mr. Versatile

Jonny Hayes, an ex-team mate of Shinnie from his time in Inverness and current Dons winger extraordinaire, forecast Shinnie’s versatility prior to his arrival saying,

“Maybe I’ll get a bit further forward now.  Myself and Andy Considine have been kind of filling in there.  But you’re always thinking in the back of your mind that there’s a left-back out there somewhere on the manager’s radar.  When I heard it was Graeme I was delighted. He has proved he’s the best left-back in the league over the past couple of years and was in the team of the year last year.  He’s proved his versatility whether it be left-back, left-wing or central midfield over the last couple of years.”

Shinnie himself doesn’t appear to mind where he plays stating,

“People often ask me where I prefer to play.  But I’m happy to go in wherever my manager feels is best for the team.  I genuinely love playing in midfield as much as I do at left-back.  And if I was asked to play in another position for Aberdeen I would be happy to give that a go too.  I’m content as long as the manager feels I’m good enough to be put out on the pitch.  It’s then up to me to go out and perform as best as I can to make sure he keeps picking me.”

It is testament to Shinnie’s talent that he is equally comfortable in either position, but how have the Dons performed when Shinnie starts at left back, compared to midfield?

Team Performance

All competitive games since the start of the 2015/2016 season (until August 27th 2016)  when Graeme Shinnie has started

Position Total Games Wins Draws


% Win Rate
LB 29 17 5 7 58.62
CM 26 11 7 8 42.3

Match reports surprisingly show that Shinnie has started almost the same amount of matches at left back as he has in the centre of the pitch.

Statistics show that the Dons are more likely to register a win when Shinnie is playing at left back, although that doesn’t tell the full story.

Shinnie’s games at left back are almost always against teams the Dons are favourites to win against, e.g. teams outwith the traditionally more competitive Celtic, away games in Europe or the physically demanding Hearts.

In these games Aberdeen expect to have a lot of the ball and have more opportunity to widen the pitch so as to include technical full backs, such as Shinnie and Logan on the right flank, who can supplement attacking moves.

It is likely that this attacking formation will lead to more wins against more limited opponents.  In only 2 matches outwith this rule did the Dons start with Shinnie at left back – the second 2/1 home victory over Celtic in the 2015/2016 season, and a 0/1 defeat away to the Luxemburgish Fola Esch at the very start of the 2016/2017 season.

In games when Shinnie starts in midfield he usually partners another industrious midfielder such as Ryan Jack, Craig Storie or the now departed Willo Flood to form a 5 man midfield that gives additional battling qualities in the centre of the pitch, and to allow the inclusion of an extra physically imposing defender such as Andy Considine.

In these matches the Dons are less likely to start as favourites, and it is not surprising that the Dons win rate is considerably lower.

In games where Shinnie has played in a midfield formation containing 3 or 4 midfielders, as an alternative to one of the aforementioned industrious midfielders, the team has mixed results.

All competitive games since the start of the 2015/2016 season (until August 27th 2016)  when Graeme Shinnie has started, excluding Celtic, Hearts and European Games.

Position Total Games Wins Draws Losses % Win Rate
LB 20 13 3 4 65
CM 13 6 4 3 46.15

Excluding games where the Dons are less likely to be favourites – Celtic, Hearts and European games – it is noticeable that there is a drop in win rate.

All competitive games (up to Celtic 4/1 defeat on August 27th 2016)  where Graeme Shinnie has started since the start of the 2016/2017 season.

Position Total Games Wins Draws Losses % Win Rate
LB 2 1 0 1 50
CM 9 4 3 2 44.4

So far in the 2016/2017 season Shinnie has started in the centre of the park more often than not and the Dons have won less than half of their games.

‘Best left back in the country’

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan selected two separate squads for friendly matches against the Czech Republic and Denmark in March 2016, and on neither occasion was Shinnie included.  McInnes reacted to this news by saying,

“I’m so disappointed that he’s not in it.  I’m really surprised he’s not in it. I know Gordon can only pick so many, but for me I wouldn’t swap him for anybody.  I think he’s the best left back in the country.”

Whilst McInnes defines Shinnie as the ‘best left back in the country’ (although he doesn’t always play him there) it seems that Strachan does not currently share this view, selecting alternative left sided defenders Hull’s Andy Robertson, Celtic’s Kieran Tierney, and Rangers’ Lee Wallace for the recent World Cup qualifier against Malta

Strachan did however call up Shinnie to the Scotland squad for October 2015 matches versus Poland and Gibraltar, although the Aberdeen man would not go on to make an appearance.  Speaking at the time Strachan highlighted that there is a high talent pool for Scotland at left back but also appreciated that Shinnie can play elsewhere.

“I have known about Graeme for a couple of years now. But again we have been strong in the areas he has been playing.  But he has played so well it would be great to have a look at him. He can cover many positions, that is handy and I look forward to working with him.  He has had a successful season, he has been in a winning side so that helps when you bring people in who have been on a high, and he is on a high at the moment.”

The Fans View

Since signing for his hometown team Shinnie is as close to being a fan favourite as you will find at Pittodrie. With help from my friends at ‘By the Minute Aberdeen’ I ran the following poll.  (Thank you to all who voted!)


The results show that two-thirds of Dons fans are convinced that Shinnie at left back is best for business and indeed, the team’s results back up their confidence.

Play him at Left Back!

With almost half his Dons appearances in midfield Shinnie needs more playing time at left back.

If the Aberdeen man starts more often at left back his team win more often, and he will again catch the eye of Gordon Strachan, who noted that he had been selected for being part of a successful side.

The fans know it, and the stats show it, that the Dons play better when Shinnie starts at left back.

An updated version of this article appeared in Issue 127 of The Red Final


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