Norwich City report card: Stiepermann so crucial to title chase after moving out of the shadows
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As Marco Stiepermann signs a new Norwich City contract, David Freezer takes a closer look at the hugely influential campaign enjoyed by the German midfielder during the Canaries’ superb title success, as part of our end-of-season report card series.
To say Marco Stiepermann's first season in England didn't quite go to plan would be something of an understatement. You really can't overstate just how important he was to Norwich City in his second though, so it's little surprise that he's earned a new contract.
The Borussia Dortmund youth product had arrived in the summer of 2017 from German second-tier side Bochum for a fee of around £1million, with an impressive CV.
Over 50 caps at youth levels for Germany, given his debut at Dortmund by Jurgen Klopp at 18 years old and with plenty of experience in Bundesliga II, Stiepermann looked a very solid addition.
He soon found himself playing left-back for City though and found his first campaign brought to an end in February, 27 matches into his Canaries career.
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The man who had told fans he was 'born to score goals' in an early interview was fast becoming a forgotten man and there were even whispers that he was free to return to Germany last summer. Thankfully, he didn't.
That strength, determination and team ethic which had seen him persevere gamely as a full-back, where he was happy to get stuck in but clearly vulnerable positionally, would soon become an asset higher up the pitch.
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Stiepermann had done enough during pre-season to earn a start on the opening day away at Birmingham and started as a winger, before having to drop to left-back as injury cover and limping off himself. While his team-mates rescued a 2-2 draw, it was an inauspicious start to a new campaign personally.
The former Cottbus and Greuther Furth man then only played brief roles in City's unconvincing start to the season but did score - heading home a Mo Leitner cross from point-blank range - as League Two side Stevenage were beaten 3-1 at Carrow Road in the League Cup first round.
Things really started to change in the second round though, during an evening in Cardiff which would prove pivotal to the success which followed for Daniel Farke's squad.
Stiepermann started in attacking midfield and superbly linked with Tom Trybull on the counter before beating his marker to chip a cross from the right to the back post, where Dennis Srbeny headed in a second, as Premier League opposition were beaten 3-1.
He had to make do with a place on the bench at Ipswich in the next league game before the foundations of a crucial partnership started to be laid as he began in support of lone striker Teemu Pukki, playing a fine through-ball before Max Aarons and Emi Buendia combined to tee up the Finn for the only goal of the game.
All of a sudden the attacking midfield hole left vacant by James Maddison looked to have a new occupant, a very different type of player with a more unorthodox but highly effective style.
Stiepermann's ability to hold up the ball in the attacking half, to disrupt opposition defenders and to thread Pukki through on goal had a transformative effect on City's style of play, bringing the best out of the Finland international.
Beating Boro sparked an upturn in form that would eventually come to rest with Farke's spirited and hungry squad lifting the Championship trophy, with Stiepermann at the heart of that success.
Ten goals and eight assists from 46 games in all competitions ensured the days of filling in as an emergency left-back were consigned to the past, with some Goal of the Season contenders in the mix as well.
Curling home wonderfully from 25 yards during a hard fought 2-2 draw at Bristol City, turning home a fine Pukki pass at the end of a rapid counter during a 4-0 win at Bolton and weaving past half the Hull team before poking into the top corner during a 3-2 home victory were all on the shortlist.
But more than that, watch the video the Canaries produced with their Goal of the Season contenders and you'll notice Stiepermann is involved in the build up to most of them.
Whether that was the killer pass during the flowing team move at Bolton, his part in the build-up to Leitner's swerving strike against Millwall or the cushion for Ben Godfrey's rocket against Reading - the German had a starring role.
With some quirky goal celebrations and videos of him cleaning Farke's car - after opting to spin the 'wheel of fortune' at Colney as he tried to escape a fine for a minor training ground misdemeanour - it became clear Stiepermann was a firm favourite in the dressing room.
Keeping that supply line to Pukki flowing could now also prove crucial to City's hopes of Premier League survival, as he returns to the big time.