Encouraging signs from Rupp in advanced Canaries role
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The energetic display of Lukas Rupp against Luton vindicated Daniel Farke's decision to give the German a chance to impress as Norwich City's central attacking midfielder.
The Canaries chief had spoken ahead of the match about Rupp being unfortunate to not be starting due to his form in recent weeks, with Kenny McLean performing so well alongside Oliver Skipp in the deeper central midfield roles.
He had come off the bench to set up Skipp's goal in injury-time during the 3-1 win at Birmingham and it was the 30-year-old's classy pass to Adam Idah which brought the corner from which the Irishman would make it 2-0 at Wycombe.
It was Mario Vrancic who had started in the 'number 10' role in the six-game winning streak, claiming two assists and performing consistently well but without quite managing to reach the levels of quality he has previously shown in a Norwich shirt.
Yet as the teams were announced ahead of the leaders' 3-0 win over Luton at Carrow Road on Saturday, there was still a fair amount of surprise that it was Rupp getting the nod ahead of Kieran Dowell in place of Vrancic.
The January 2020 signing from Hoffenheim struggled to convince in the Premier League, being used on the right wing as much as anywhere, but after relegation he was showing City fans why he has close to 150 Bundesliga appearances on his CV - only for hamstring issues to keep him out from late November until mid-January.
The dynamic former Germany Under-20 international showed promising signs in the more advanced central role though, being involved in the first two goals against the Hatters and offering good support to striker Teemu Pukki, knitting attacks together nicely.
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City's opener arrived in the 12th minute, with Todd Cantwell turning away from a Dimitris Giannoulis pass from the left and Pukki passing backwards to Rupp, who curled a pass to the charging Cantwell in the left channel. The England Under-21 ace prodded to Pukki in the box and the Finn's excellent control allowed him to thrash the ball into the top-right corner, completing a swift attack with class.
It was a very welcome goal too after a bright start from the visitors, who had hit the post. Six minutes later and Rupp was brought down as he charged towards the penalty area but Emi Buendia could only curl a tame free-kick over the bar.
Still searching for his first Canaries goal, Ryan Tunnicliffe was in the right place at the right time to prevent the former Paderborn and Stuttgart midfielder from turning into an empty net at the back post on the half-hour, as Simon Sluga made a fine save to push a Pukki shot to his right.
The second goal arrived two minutes before the break, with Rupp involved in the build-up and then attempting a sharp turn as he was found on the edge of the box by McLean. The ball deflected to Cantwell, who prodded back towards Rupp in the box only for Kal Naismith to get a foot in - only as far as Buendia though, whose shot deflected kindly for Pukki to turn in at the back post for 2-0.
The hosts were fired up to get a third after half-time and Rupp won an early corner, which Grant Hanley could only nod beyond the penalty area, where Rupp was sharp to prevent Luton from clearing their lines.
A bit of flair emerged soon after, prodding at the ball so it spun behind him, turning away from Tunnicliffe and Naismith only for Luton midfielder Tunnicliffe to do well to wrap his foot around and win the ball in the tackle as Rupp pushed forward.
He stole possession in the 66th minute but Cantwell's through-ball had just too much on it and Sluga beat Pukki to the ball.
Cantwell made it 3-0 in the 73rd minute after being sent away on the left by Buendia, who was joined by Rupp in charging into the box to keep the Hatters' defence stretched, as Cantwell cut inside and fired a low shot into the bottom-left corner from the edge of the box.
There was one last moment of note for Rupp before being replaced by Jacob Sorensen in the 78th minute, as Buendia played him into the box only for Naismith to step across his path. Matty Pearson then thumped his clearance against Martin Cranie though and the visitors were relieved to see the ball bounce wide for a corner and not an own goal.
VERDICT: Pace and tenacity brought a slightly different approach to Vrancic but still primarily that 'number 10' role continues to be something of an enabling position for the creative talents of Cantwell and Buendia, and the lethal instincts of Pukki - as Marco Stiepermann has also fulfilled so well at times in the past.
With Stiepermann back in contention and impressing for the under-23s and Dowell looking bright in his late cameo, creating chances for Jordan Hugill and Sorensen, there is a really interesting contest brewing for the central attacking midfield role.
Rupp didn't do anything drastically different from Vrancic but his sharp instincts and overall energy have reclaimed a place at the heart of Farke's successful team.
Can he retain that prominence though? The key for all the contenders would appear to be who can start scoring goals from that important position, with a potential Premier League opportunity now looming large on the horizon.
RATING: 7 out of 10