Connor Southwell: Rupp’s display against United evidence the midfielder has a part to play for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Daniel Farke has seen criticism angled in his direction since Norwich City’s Premier League resumption – but the Canaries’ FA Cup defeat offered a counter argument to accusations of an absence of quality.
City’s application and tactical discipline within a structured defensive shape out of possession was encouraging when contrasted with the displays witnessed against Southampton and Everton.
Ultimately, they did lose the game. But those tough questions, rightly or wrongly, that supporters were asking in the direction of the players and coaching staff couldn’t be repeated.
For all intents and purposes, this wasn’t a lack of application or tactical competence, City displayed reasons for optimism even though the storm clouds have gathered over Carrow Road.
This was a performance that contained fight and it was gutsy in its nature – especially when you consider City had to navigate through extra-time without a key component in Timm Klose in their backline.
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Perhaps, though, the representation of this cautious optimism was personified by Lukas Rupp – a player who has divided opinion amongst the Canaries faithful since his arrival.
When he signed in January, the German’s pedigree was clear. Rupp has made over 130 appearances in the Bundesliga and his brief was to inject a fresh sense of competition and depth into City’s squad.
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His first start under Farke was at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, his mission to offer City’s young full-backs more protection in wider areas and to solidify the right channel.
But, Rupp is a pragmatic alternative to Emi Buendia or Todd Cantwell – he isn’t gifted with raw, natural pace or a sense of spontaneity that allows him to affect a game with a piece of individual talent.
There is, however, a willingness to put in the hard yards and a discipline within a defensive shape that makes the Canaries more solid in a deeper block when out of possession.
In three of his five starts, City have lost by a single goal – his other appearances were in a goalless draw with Newcastle United and a heavy 3-0 defeat to Wolves at Molineux.
Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final gave supporters a fresh glimpse of Rupp and offered him an opportunity to display why City elected to sign him in the winter transfer window.
Rupp was deployed to the right of a central midfield three – accompanying Alex Tettey and Kenny McLean.
The German offered an energy and tenacity in midfield that helped City’s adapted press but also aided Buendia more offensive freedom by offering protection to Max Aarons when the Argentine did maraud forward and the ball was turned over.
City’s 4-5-1, or 4-3-3 in possession, seemed to offer them a greater sense of balance. There was a respect shown to Manchester United, who possess quality in abundance – one glance towards the substitutes’ bench highlighted that.
Rupp’s inclusion in a midfield three looked to provide City with a solid base. That condensed midfield three prevented Bruno Fernandes and other technical operators from picking up positions in potentially hurtful central areas.
Rupp and McLean sat in front of Tettey – Klose’s dismissal means City will have to find another solution for their trip for Arsenal, but moving forward this shape and approach did seem to show a degree of potential.
There were a few moments in the opening period where Rupp was still tentative in possession – his technical limitations are evident, but his energy out of possession offered City an alternative in the engine room.
Statistically, he won possession on two occasions, bettered only by Buendia with eight.
The aspects of his performance that stood out were the ones that the casual observer wouldn’t have necessarily noticed. The manner in which he tracked runners, the filling of gaps and his defensive display was impressive.
This performance was the first example that, should the Canaries suffer relegation, Rupp could be a useful component of the effort to push for a top-flight return.
A potential abductor injury could keep him out of the fixture with Arsenal – but Rupp’s display was more an indication of the ingredients City require to offer them more balance and solidity to open the chance to counter attack sides.
It wasn’t a display worthy of a man of the match award, nor was it noteworthy in terms of output, but it offered an encouraging side of Rupp that hadn’t been witnessed prior to Saturday.