Supply line is crucial to Pukki continuing the party with City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Teemu Pukki returns to training at Norwich City today with confidence boosted by his latest success in Finland colours, sharpening his poacher’s instinct for the pursuit of Premier League points.
It’s not have been the most enjoyable start to the season for the 31-year-old, managing two goals for City - one of which was a penalty - from 12 shots during his seven top-flight games, four of which have been on target.
Emphatically dispatching the spot-kick that equalised against Leicester was bettered by a lovely finish to end a personal run of 25 Premier League games without a goal from open play, slotting home the bouncing ball from a curling Mathias Normann pass into the right channel against Watford.
Defensive mistakes wasted both of those Carrow Road equalisers but Normann provided a timely reminder of the kind of service that Pukki has thrived upon previously, particularly from the Emi Buendia supply line in the Championship.
Yet amid the early struggles this season, the Finn has been feeding off scraps.
Five goals from 12 appearances so far this season is pretty respectable in the circumstances, as is 23 in 41 matches for club and country so far in 2021, particularly when the ankle injury which disrupted his Euros is taken into consideration.
Ukraine reached the quarter-finals of that tournament but were caught out by an inventive reaction from Pukki on Saturday, pouncing to block an attempted clearance and deflect the ball into the net from close range.
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Again an equaliser wasn’t taken advantage of as the visitors found a winner in Helsinki but it meant the former Celtic striker travelled east to Kazakhstan knowing he was just one short of equalling Jari Litmanen’s record of 32 goals for Finland.
The Canaries star topped up his confidence nicely with a sharp spin and poke goalwards which caught out the keeper, after the ball had dropped kindly into his path in the box, to open the scoring and equal the record.
As so often in yellow and green, when Pukki trusts his ice-cold instincts and pulls the trigger quickly, he regularly enjoys success. It’s when he has time to consider his options that things occasionally go awry.
He then wrote his name into Finnish history with the simplest of finishes as the Kazakh keeper fumbled the ball to a lurking Pukki to make sure of a 2-0 win in Astana.
All of which brings the sharp-shooter back to Norfolk with a superb record of 90 goals in 168 games for club and country since he left Brondby for the Canaries on a free transfer in the summer of 2018.
Just eight players have scored more goals in the history of Norwich City. He is already a legend in waiting – but is far from finished.
Among the crowded forest of Premier League statistics is the measure for passes that lead directly to a shot. City currently rank bottom in the division with 49, as one of eight teams yet to surpass 60 this season. Liverpool lead the way with 101.
For passes played into the penalty area, Daniel Farke’s team fare slightly better with 48 during their seven games, which is more than five of their rivals.
Only Brentford have had fewer (126) touches inside the opposition penalty area than the Canaries’ 130 so far – although the Bees have 10 goals and 12 points, so that’s far from definitive.
However, with Josh Sargent and Adam Idah yet to step up as genuine goal-threatening alternatives, Pukki remains the main man and the penalty area is where he lives, playing off the shoulder of the last defender and using his intelligent movement to find space to thrive in.
That’s where the vast majority of his 55 goals in 84 games came from as he twice proved to be better than Championship standard.
That’s where his flying start to 2019-20 brought six goals in five games and a Premier League Player of the Month award prior to a fractured toe during the 1-1 draw at Leicester in December knocking him of course.
At that stage Pukki had 16 goals in 23 games for club and country that season. After unsuccessfully trying to play through the pain, just two penalties would follow in the 21 games that remained of that pandemic-affected campaign.
Few doubt Pukki’s credentials and while the need for renewed defensive focus was clearly needed in recent games, that Buendia-shaped hole is growing in size by the week.
Whether it’s a returning Todd Cantwell or Kieran Dowell getting another chance, or summer signings Milot Rashica or Christos Tzolis stepping up, reinstating that supply line is crucial.
The defensive foundations are needed but if a creative edge cannot be found, then the more physical presences of Sargent and Idah could well prove better suited to a more direct approach, as City get into the top-flight trenches and try to grind out the points which would allow confidence to build.