Stiepermann in the Norwich City spotlight as search for form continues
Marco Stiepermann proved to be something of a secret weapon during Norwich City's title-winning season in the Championship but the unorthodox attacking midfielder hasn't quite hit the same heights in the top flight just yet.
The 28-year-old enjoyed the best season of his career as he forged an influential bond with Teemu Pukki, scoring nine goals and assisting seven during 43 league games. However, Stiepermann's starting role has been a point of contention for Canaries fans in recent weeks, with Daniel Farke's team having lost five of their opening seven top-flight games.
That form - as ever - doesn't tell the whole story, as those matches included an epic 3-2 win over champions Manchester City and pushing a vibrant Chelsea all the way in a 3-2 defeat.
The concern has emerged from 2-0 defeats at West Ham, Burnley and Crystal Palace though, during which City have struggled to reproduce the attacking swagger which took them to the Premier League in style.
The step up in quality always provides a huge challenge for teams rising from the Championship but star striker Teemu Pukki, with the momentum of a 30-goal season behind him, has led the way in making the adjustment with six goals in seven games and a national Player of the Month triumph to his name already.
Similarly, another of the stars of last season, Argentine ace Emi Buendia, has notched four assists so far and academy product Todd Cantwell has looked more comfortable on the ball in the top flight, with two goals and two assists helping him to ascend to England Under-21 recognition.
Both of the talented youngsters still have plenty to learn, with Buendia letting his frustrations getting to him too often and Cantwell conceding possession too easily at times, but they have made their mark in attack.
In comparison, Stiepermann's statistics leave him without a goal or assist in the top tier yet. Is it too simple to say that's he's the forward player who hasn't quite managed the step up during the opening stages though?
Few City supporters would claim the German hasn't been working hard for his team, with his understanding with Pukki looking to still be working at times, but the former Borussia Dortmund prospect seems to have lost his shooting boots.
Go back to the glitz and glamour of that opening night at Anfield and had Stiepermann's range not been wayward twice in the first half, before testing Liverpool keeper Allison with another effort, then the Canaries could have at least been level at the break - rather than trailing 4-0 to the European champions.
A look at the stats show that, as expected, Pukki is way out in front for shots at goal so far this season with a total of 22. The attacking midfield trio of Cantwell, Stiepermann and Buendia are all tied on nine apiece.
There is only a slight difference in accuracy though, with three of Stiepermann's efforts being on target and his younger colleagues getting four of their shots on target.
However, it's the passing figures where Buendia and Cantwell are outperforming their more experienced colleague.
Buendia is averaging 49.7 passes per 90 minutes and his pass success percentage is holding steady at 82.1 percent so far, while Cantwell is averaging 36.7 passes and 81pc are successful.
Stiepermann is on 32.8 passes, with 72pc of them successful. Passing stats are not totally reflective, as of course sometimes successful creative players will lose the ball when trying to carve out an opening, but they can at least show patterns that are developing.
We can also compare the summer 2017 signing, from VFL Bochum for a reported £1million, with his stats over the course of his successful previous campaign though.
He averaged a goal just short of every five games and an assist at a little more than every six matches, so clearly that is his main area for improvement.
One of the aspects of Stiepermann's game which made him so awkward last season though was his physicality, holding the ball up in the opposition's half and often triggering attacking moves.
He averaged 1.8 aerial duels won per game over the course of that successful campaign but so far that's down at 0.9 per game in the Premier League.
Whether that's a tweak in style which City need to make to get the best out of Stiepermann, or whether it's due to facing better quality defenders, is difficult to call. It's a challenge for a popular player to try and overcome though, starting against Aston Villa on Saturday.
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