Adam Brandon takes a look at the footballing maestro with batons in his toes, who is allowing Farke's music to strike the right note. Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo Limits.
When Grant Hanley got injured many fans said we had a relegation battle on our hands. When Onel Hernandez got injured, we all asked how we would cope without his pace and creativity. When Teemu Pukki got injured, people worried we wouldn’t be able to score goals.
How have Norwich managed to keep finding answers to such seemingly tricky questions? The emergence of Max Aarons at right back, Todd Cantwell in midfield and the rebirth of Marco Stiepermann as some kind of space invader have all been pleasant surprises.
Good technical coaching, some clever tactics and that almighty intangible; confidence, have all played a part too of course.
However, one man in the double pivot at the base of the Norwich midfield is where you can find the key. Jurgen Klopp was a fan once upon a time. He is Norwich’s GPS, a player that sees the play in his head two-seconds before his average opponent in The Championship.
It is the man with sharp passing and an even sharper haircut - Moritz Leitner.
His career in Norfolk has seemingly been on an upward trajectory ever since he found the bottom corner of the net to rescue a point against that lot down the road to become a derby day hero.
He’s also the player that appears to have gifted Alex Tettey an Indian summer and is repaying the unwavering faith his head coach has always showed in him.
Leitner plays football to the rhythm of a camera shutter, every action he participates in you can hear the click and the whirl of the 360° snap going off his mind.
He is the conductor in Farke’s Norwich City symphony. Take the winning goal against Aston Villa for example:
In an interview with a German newspaper earlier this season, he spoke of the need to mature quickly as he made the move from Germany to England in another attempt to reboot his career and to work with a coach he trusts.
A permanent transfer to East Anglia didn’t look particularly likely or even that popular at one point. Leitner had impressed in patches, but the fanbase was split as to whether we should sign him.
The sale of James Maddison, a player he had a clear connection with on the pitch, helped facilitate his move to Norwich. There were worries how he would fit in without Maddison in the team, but if anything the loss of last year’s player of the season has seen Leitner grow and become the player so many believed he could be.
For many he hadn’t really done enough to justify a transfer fee, but the switch to a deeper role in September has paid huge dividends, after some disappointing performances further forward at the start of the campaign.
If we rewind back to 2012-13 when he emerged through the ranks at Borussia Dortmund, you’ll find lots of articles tipping him for stardom and he looked set to become one of the best deep lying playmakers in the game.
Dortmund under Klopp grew faster than Leitner could keep up with and he struggled for game time. Moves to Lazio, Stuttgart (loan) Augsburg didn’t really work out, but like so many mercurial talents, he appears to be flourishing in Norfolk.
After doubts, including from himself, that he’d physically suit The Championship, he is now looking robust, ultra-fit and rarely flustered.
Wyscout, one of the industry’s leading analytical platforms, rank him as the number 1 defensive midfielder in the division.
The radar shows he is in the top range for passes for 90 minutes (P/90) while registering impressive numbers for recoveries per 90 minutes (REC/90) especially in the opponents’ half (OHR/90). His high score for winning loose balls (LD/90) also highlights his speed of thought.
For comparison is a radar wheel below showing Granit Xhaka performing a similar role for Arsenal. It is perhaps surprising for many that he is ranked first in the Premier League. His role is not exactly the same as Leitner’s, but he retains his place in the side mainly due to his range of passing.
Xhaka describes himself as a fake 10, so basically a playmaker that plays further back. This is mainly due to his ineffectiveness further forward. Sounds familiar, right?
Sky Sports put up a stat up during the Villa game that Leitner has had more touches and more passes than any other player in The Championship so far this season despite not starting every game.
In front of those TV cameras on Tuesday night, he displayed his usual deft touch, composure and passing ability. He was central to Norwich taking control of the match for the last hour.
More performances like that then the club will have another multi-million asset on their hands especially as Farkeball is not going unnoticed either:
If he carries on the form shown over the past ten games then Premier League football and an international call-up awaits — albeit for Austria rather than Germany.
It is a big if though.
The past two months he has demonstrated that he is capable of fulfilling his early promise, but Leitner needs to prove he can play a full season steering clear of injuries that have partly halted his career to date.
Moreover, Norwich need him fit and healthy as he might just be the one player they can’t replace.