City report card: Why Lukas Rupp needs to get selfish
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Lukas Rupp may have ground to make up with City fans after his first tour of English football. But in the latest of our report card series, Paddy Davitt argues there may well be a role for the experienced midfielder in the Canaries’ Championship bid to bounce back.
Selfishness might turn out to be a better trait than versatility for Lukas Rupp at Norwich City.
Rupp found himself frequently on the wrong side of the court of public opinion across social media as the Canaries’ limped to the finish line in the Premier League.
His inclusion on a team sheet, allied to that of Josip Drmic, seemed liable to send plenty of City fans into a frenzy at Daniel Farke’s selection policy.
For Rupp, the sense many outside the camp are still unsure of his best position merely fanned that general feeling of frustration at the Canaries’ collective inability to prolong the relegation that was far from inevitable when he first arrived.
Rupp came from Hoffenheim in January with a profile that suggested he could be anything from a right back to a right-sided wide player, with central midfield another station he can comfortably occupy.
Given his first, real Norwich exposure came at the expense of Emi Buendia down the City right that was a tough gig indeed for the 29-year-old.
He is no Buendia. Who is among the current Norwich personnel? Although in mitigation there was a disciplined, effective shift in the FA Cup win at Burnley, and a key role in Drmic’s match-winner.
No, what he is is a player with a decade of experience operating in the Bundesliga for a series of clubs.
That career statistic alone is worthy of respect if you measure it perhaps in the less exacting terrain of the English Championship.
His ability to cover the ground out of possession, and his game management, came together in what Farke, rightly, labelled his best display in green and yellow in that FA Cup quarter-final extra-time loss to Manchester United.
A performance that stood apart from the dross too often served up in the league from his team during the painful ‘Project Restart’ period.
On that afternoon behind closed doors at Carrow Road, operating in a protective area of the pitch and blended around the likes of Kenny McLean and Alex Tettey, Rupp was impressive.
Particularly in allowing Buendia greater freedom to push on and express himself freed, to a degree, from the defensive obligations which never seemingly come easily to the young man. With United dominating territory and possession, Rupp was a reassuring presence in front of his back four.
Farke reflected afterwards on how crucial he was to how City had tried to press that day.
Now just try and imagine him patrolling in front of a back four in the Championship, should Tettey’s body not withstand the rigours of what looks already a furious schedule of games every few days. Jacob Sorensen could emerge but there are no guarantees it will happen quickly as he strives to adapt to new surroundings.
The pursuit of Ethan Ampadu demonstrated Norwich would like another defensive midfield option for the battles ahead. But Rupp in that role must not be discounted.
With Farke already indicating he wanted more pace and direct thrust in attacking wide areas, following the arrival of Przemyslaw Placheta, and Kieran Dowell adding to a stacked mix of forward-thinking midfield options, Rupp’s window of opportunity may already be narrowing.
On the evidence of his first months in Norfolk he might not be one who commands headlines or goals and assists in ample quantities.
But for City to seriously compete at the right end of this division there will be always be a time and a place for a player who has been around the block and still retains the physical capability to bolster Norwich’s resolve without the ball; it cannot be champagne all the way in the Championship.
There were plenty of games even in the title-winning campaign when Farke’s squad had to dig in and grind their teeth.
Rupp’s industrious style is perhaps never going to win a place in the affections, or the hearts of the Norwich faithful, but find him a niche and he is the type of asset whose value may be far greater appreciated among his team mates.
You need players who can cover the hard yards.
City simply did not have enough of them to sustain their fight against the odds in the Premier League.
Farke’s enduring faith in Rupp suggests he believes there is a place for him in what comes next.