Michael Bailey: Where has Marco Stiepermann been? Maybe he was here all along
PUBLISHED: 06:06 02 October 2018 | UPDATED: 15:42 02 October 2018
It's arguably the story of the season so far - Marco Stiepermann's rise to Norwich City prominence. MICHAEL BAILEY takes a closer look at a Canaries cult hero in the making.
It happened several times at the weekend against Wigan – both when Norwich City were struggling to find cohesion in the first half, and when they were desperately searching for match-winning chances in the second: the lankly, gangly strides of Marco Stiepermann were driving Daniel Farke’s men forward, with a quiet leadership and responsibility that doesn’t always attract the amount of credit it deserves.
You would have got long odds from most people – probably Farke included – on the 27-year-old German evolving into a key cog in his Canaries engine room.
That included after the season had started at Birmingham with a marauding right-wing shift – although the signs were there, as in truth they have been since Stiepermann arrived at Carrow Road in the summer of 2017 for a fee of around £800,000.
In such straitened times, that is no longer a fee to be sniffed at.
As far as Stiepermann’s official stats 10 Championship games into the season, they look bang average: no goals, no assists and a better rate of aerial duels won than his passing accuracy.
That’s harsh too, given his role in goals at Reading, QPR and Wigan especially – and probably filters nicely into the irregularly spoken observation that City’s number 18 doesn’t always look like a footballer. It’s the same school of logic that sees some others labelled lazy, weak or unfit.
In contradiction, it’s actually the subtleties that are providing Stiepermann’s success.
His current stint in a central midfield role stuck between a number 10 and slightly deeper number 8, has been the catalyst.
It gives Stiepermann the chance to get about the pitch, to be involved and involve others, and especially utilise his ability to read the play, nick the ball and break up counter attacks before they get too serious – for me, the biggest part of his recent success.
At Cardiff and Reading, he was superb at halting the hosts’ attempts at earning a foothold in the game with his defensive work – despite playing in a role that all too often revolves around their product at the other end.
Likewise, Stiepermann’s bright play won the ball back to help Teemu Pukki earn City’s match-winning penalty five minutes from time against Wigan – after tireless running from both. It’s infectious energy. All that was missing was a clinical touch and Marco’s goal.
So cue the big question. Stiepermann didn’t arrive this summer, but the one before – so where on earth has he been?
Indeed, only seven of his team-mates have more City appearances to their name than Stiepermann’s 38 outings.
Mitigation one is all around him. This City squad has balance – options to cover every position without major strain. Last season’s certainly didn’t, leaving Stiepermann all too often covering a left-back berth that never looked like suiting him on a regular basis – regardless how often he’d done it at other clubs.
In fact, central midfield was the one position that seemed to fit from the moment Stiepermann made his debut 12 months ago – he just got so few opportunities in that role, especially after one chance came at Aston Villa in a chastening early 2017-18 season encounter. A year on and it’s clear Stiepermann is benefitting from the time it has taken for not only his own adaptation to English football, but that of Daniel Farke.
Injuries shouldn’t be ignored either. Stiepermann’s first season was effectively a write-off from January: he made just one, 89th minute appearance as a substitute following the first month of 2018.
But in truth, the role Stiepermann is operating in at the moment simply didn’t exist last season. With James Maddison the focal point and Wes Hoolahan on the sidelines, the likes of Mario Vrancic adapting quicker to the Championship and Alex Pritchard around for a few weeks at least, what Farke wanted to do didn’t marry with a workable position for one of his more expensive men. And that’s a delightful element of Stiepermann’s current form.
The efficiency and bright sparks of this current unit, a shared responsibility and a team reaching higher than the sum of its parts, means Stiepermann can do what he does well – and bring out the best bits of what others do better alongside him.
It’s akin to chemistry and what in the right instances, can produce an irresistible momentum.
There is a caveat of course, because this is an in-form City on a superb run. The side Farke is playing in a few weeks’ time maybe completely different.
Form and injuries come and go, while City’s newfound collective responsibility just as simply translates into shifting purple patches and inspiration.
At the moment, Marco Stiepermann is making a big impact – and that may well come to an end.
Equally, it may continue – to the point he becomes a real cult hero.
• For the latest Norwich City news and opinion follow Michael Bailey on the following channels…