Norwich City report card: Mo, interrupted – and Leitner’s best may be yet to come
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The latest in our 2018-19 season report cards sees Michael Bailey assess the impact of a man who led Norwich City at their best – and may be even more valuable come the Premier League. Here’s to you, Moritz Leitner.
Sitting on his sofa back in Germany this summer, it would be interesting to know how Moritz Leitner feels about his first full season as a Norwich City player.
There was no denying the potential of the Canaries' 26-year-old midfielder when he first arrived on loan the previous January. To be anywhere near a Champions League final in itself takes plenty of talent.
And while injury curtailed that initial burst, James Maddison's sale and Leitner's subsequent permanent signing offered genuine hope City could plug the loss of a talismanic player.
Even on the other side of an incredible, Championship-winning season for Leitner that can be so neatly divided into three thirds, you would still see the former Dortmund star as an integral ingredient going forward under Daniel Farke into the Premier League - a remarkable reward for a stunning campaign.
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The first third was no doubt the one Leitner will want to recount, blow by blow.
He was a surprising omission from the opening day XI at Birmingham but started every game from then until the sublime 4-1 November win at Swansea - when a late ankle injury ultimately rang in his second third, spent almost entirely on the sidelines. Before that were 17 starts, each incurring more momentum, style, belief and dominance - from missing a gilt-edged breakaway chance in a rare away defeat at Sheffield United, scoring his first City goal in a crucial comeback draw at Ipswich, to blitzing the Swans in Wales with one of the season's defining performances: Leitner was the metronome that made City tick, when they were at their absolute peak. And in that spell, no one could match their pace.
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I would add that no one could get near them too, but that wasn't true. By this point, Emi Buendia and Leitner were being regularly dumped to the floor - retribution for being a little bit too good for their Championship rivals. And it was one such challenge at the Liberty Stadium that left Leitner in a heap and out for a month.
Leitner made it back just before Christmas, and Farke made sure his return to the XI was swift. Sadly it was also at Blackburn, where an opening 45 minutes of robust treatment for Leitner ended at half-time, as he succumbed to his latest bout of ankle kicks.
Leitner wouldn't be seen again until February, when his latest return to fitness was heralded by City supporters - and yet, Farke stayed true to his principles of faith. The form of others meant Leitner spent his final third almost entirely on the bench - his one start coming in the dramatic late Carrow Road draw with Sheffield Wednesday, when Leitner had to adapt to a slightly different role.
And yet, with a summer of recuperation and the prospect of the Premier League challenge ahead - it's hard to imagine Leitner's care of the ball, passing craft and eye for a shot won't be hugely suited to the top-flight.
Even in an interrupted title-winning season, there was little to suggest otherwise - and that should ensure Moritz Leitner enjoys a few smiles on that sofa back home in Germany, ahead of his Norfolk return for pre-season.
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