Norwich City Report Card: Huge potential but injury kept Leitner stuck in second gear
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Moritz Leitner’s initially encouraging loan spell at Norwich City was disrupted by a month-long injury. David Freezer assesses the German midfielder’s impact in the latest of our summer report cards.
It didn’t take long for Norwich City fans to spot that Moritz Leitner had top-level ability but the midfielder only showed glimpses of his capabilities in the Championship.
The 25-year-old midfielder was brought in on loan from German top-flight side Augsburg during the latter stages of the January transfer window and made his debut within days.
There was plenty of anticipation about the prospect of a former Germany Under-21 captain plying his trade for the Canaries and he was thrown straight into the English second tier deep end by Daniel Farke.
Leitner came on in the 78th minute at Griffin Park with City leading Brentford 1-0 thanks to a fine James Maddison strike – no shock there – as the hosts surged forward in pursuit of an equaliser.
The shock at the physicality and intensity of the situation was clear to see on the face of a player who was on the bench for Borussia Dortmund as Jurgen Klopp’s team were beaten by Bayern Munich in the 2013 Champions League final.
A player with an obvious eye for an incisive pass, more accustomed to the technical style of the Bundesliga than the rough and tumble of the Championship, was all of a sudden having to make the adjustment that Timm Klose and Mario Vrancic had to embrace as Canaries players.
With the win at Brentford successfully held on to, 30 minutes followed as Middlesbrough were beaten 1-0 at Carrow Road a week later – when Farke’s intention of easing in his new boy were brought to an end by injury to Tom Trybull.
Having played just a handful of games for Lazio and Augsburg in the past 18 months, City’s head coach opted to give his loanee an opportunity to fill the Trybull-shaped hole in his team away at play-off chasing Derby.
Paired with Alex Tettey in central midfield it allowed the Champions League winner to take over the role as the team’s midfield pendulum, dictating the tempo and passing of the Canaries’ play.
While clearly still adjusting to the physical battle, Leitner’s class was obvious but he soon found a problem: James Maddison. It was City’s star man who was the playmaker, the creative master who expected the ball – as well as all the set-piece opportunities.
The forlorn look of defeat as Leitner accepted that it was the 21-year-old who would be taking a free-kick became a common sight, with the new man trying to avoid public bickering with his loan club’s star attraction. At times his corners challenged Maddison’s superiority but free-kicks remained the youngster’s possession.
His first start at Derby summed up the former Dortmund man’s spell aptly though. He failed to track Tom Lawrence or recover quickly enough as the Rams countered, before the Welshman lashed home from 15 yards.
However, his fine pass led to Maddison winning a penalty as the Canaries searched for an equaliser, which Nelson Oliveira saw saved, and an almost identical through-ball into the right channel saw Josh Murphy bundled over only for another spot-kick to be waved away.
He then linked with Maddison and Oliveira to lash home an equaliser in the 71st minute and kick-start his career in England – only to be left fuming as referee Jeremy Simpson opted to give a penalty for a foul on Oliveira moments before the strike.
Fortunately, Maddison made no mistake and City earned a very creditable 1-1 away draw on a day which summed up Leitner’s loan: cool, classy but defensively unsure.
His starting spot was retained in the next five games – including an excruciating miss after going through one-on-one with the Bolton keeper in a 0-0 home draw – before a hamstring injury cut short any progress made.
Leitner limped off with City leading 3-1 at Hull thanks to a Maddison hat-trick, which transformed into a 4-3 defeat during a bizarre second half at the KCom Stadium.
The lasting effect was a month out with a hamstring strain for Leitner, leading to limited impact as he started the final four games of the campaign.
An assist, of sorts, thanks to Timm Klose lashing in his deflected pass during the final-day thrashing at Sheffield Wednesday provided a late positive but the injury had prevented Leitner fulfilling his potential.
A thankful farewell message on Instagram concluded ‘it was an absolute pleasure to be a part of Norwich City’, suggesting a return is unlikely, if not totally out of the question.
That Farke would like more time to work with such a talented player is without doubt but whether he has the firepower to potentially fill Maddison’s boots remains far from clear.
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