Lukas Rupp - the performance to change perceptions?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
When Dean Smith was named as Norwich City's new head coach, many wondered what would happen to players like Lukas Rupp.
Brought in under Daniel Farke, the experienced German midfielder has received plenty of criticism since he joined the club in January 2019. Some of that just, some of it not.
Those first impressions, which included taking Emi Buendia's starting place during his first months as a Canaries player, have stuck. During City's Championship title triumph, he was an important squad member.
On the surface, Rupp's experience should be something City look to utilise in their current situation.
The midfielder has played nine seasons in the Bundesliga, making 137 appearances for four German clubs in Borussia Monchengladbach, Paderborn, Stuttgart and Hoffenheim.
Compared to other players that City have plucked from Germany, few possess the experience that Rupp has on his CV.
He was described as a 'Daniel Farke player' by many, yet was the first player Smith turned to from the bench against Wolverhampton Wanderers after Mathias Normann signalled his race was run.
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In his most recent press conference, City's boss described the 30-year-old as a player with 'a great knowledge of the game' and was full of praise for his contribution on Saturday.
Most interestingly, the decision to cut short Rupp's warm-up came as £5m summer signing Pierre Lees-Melou remained on the bench.
When his number flashed up on the fourth officials' board, many expected a like for like swap, but Rupp occupied a more advanced position in the centre of midfield with Billy Gilmour becoming the holder.
A lot of the questions that have surrounded Rupp is about what he offers when on the pitch.
Since arriving at Carrow Road, he has been solid if somewhat unspectacular.
His only goal for City arrived during this season's EFL Cup drubbing over Championship side Bournemouth. Rupp made his 50th appearance for the club on Saturday - few, in truth, have been particularly memorable.
His goalscoring record during his time in the Bundesliga was relatively consistent given he played for two teams who suffered relegation in Paderborn and Stuttgart.
During his one season with the latter, Rupp notched up five goals and six assists from 29 matches. He scored more than Bayern Munich wingers Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman managed during the 2015/16 campaign.
That level of productivity hasn't been replicated with the Canaries, but his statistics from Saturday's encounter with Wolves were impressive and will encourage Smith.
On another day, Rupp may well have walked away from that match with a goal and two assists to his name.
Every major chance Norwich created filtered through Rupp.
No Norwich player recorded a higher expected assists (xA) rate than the 30-year-old, who intelligently played through both Max Aarons and Teemu Pukki for major chances during the match.
At 0.8xA, Rupp boasted the highest chance creation rate of anyone in yellow and green. The nearest competitor was Milot Rashica, with 0.2xA.
In fact, only the Kosovan has a higher xA rate than Rupp for City across the opening 13 matches of the Premier League campaign.
Despite being on the pitch for less than an hour, Rupp also produced the most shot-creating actions, these can be dribbles, passes or fouls won that lead to a shot on goal.
Rupp made five in 55 minutes, a testament to his performance which showcased his ability to City's new managerial duo Smith and assistant Craig Shakespeare.
As well as his positive chance creation data, Rupp also recorded the joint second-most shots on goal of three with Rashica, although Pukki edged that with five.
Only Rashica had more touches of the ball than Rupp in the final third. Only Pukki managed more touches in the penalty area than the German.
His performance data represents a major step forward in terms of his role in City's line-up. This wasn't just an inflation in his numbers but also a player being told to be more adventurous and affect things at the right end of the pitch.
Smith likes to play a single orchestrating midfielder (a number six) and two dynamic, fluid number eights who support both phases of the play and are key to the transitional element of the game.
On Saturday, Rupp was the latter and did well in that particular role.
Given Smith has described himself as a 'data geek' he will have spent some time crunching the numbers.
With Normann set to miss City's trip to the north east on Tuesday, it looks set to present Rupp with a chance to impress Smith again from the off.
Consistency of performance is now the name of the game, but if he can retain these levels of influence going forwards, then the narrative around him will change.
Forget whether or not he was a 'Farke player', if he keeps producing the level of performance seen in a 55-minute cameo on Saturday, then he will not just become a Smith player, but an important one to Norwich City.