Has the Premier League worked out the threat of City’s biggest weapon?
PUBLISHED: 17:00 29 October 2019 | UPDATED: 17:35 29 October 2019
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Teemu Pukki burst onto the Premier League scene, which for any Norwich City supporter who followed his trajectory in the Championship, didn’t serve as any great surprise given his goal scoring exploits.
The Finnish striker ended City's title-winning season with a golden boot in his hands. As he dispatched 29 times in the division, other clubs were left wondering why they hadn't taken the chance on the 29-year old.
At the start of this campaign, Pukki was staring doubters in the face again. How could a player who failed to set the Scottish Premiership alight make any real dent in the Premier League?
On the opening night at Anfield, he was a bright spark for City, his work in running the channels and advancing the Canaries up the pitch in order to the relieve the defensive pressure particularly important.
Given he was a major protagonist in the Canaries harnessing upward momentum in a season that was devoid of expectation last year, it seemed fitting that it was Pukki who grabbed the first goal on their Premier League reunion.
After all, this is a City side containing footballing misfits with Pukki another example of that.
Thrown onto the waste heap after a short stint at Celtic, many on these isles elected to tarnish him with that reputation. It was City who took the risk, a gamble that proved one of the best in the club's recent history.
As he picked up the hat-trick ball against Newcastle, the world was formally introduced to the man who'd work tirelessly to rebuild a career that saw his star dim after being brandished as Finland's next major talent.
Throw into the mix a historic victory against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City and it was clear to see why Pukki was flavour of the month.
Six goals in five matches, a master class in offensive movement and the ability to finish from a variety of angles, this was a striker breaking conventions.
His goalscoring record since joining on a free transfer is there for all to consume and marvel at but it isn't just converting chances, he is a crucial component of how the Canaries create them.
A 32pc goal involvement statistic from last season underlines how intrinsic he is to City's attacking game.
Any sign of an adaptation period to life in the top-flight wasn't evident in the opening five fixtures however, with Pukki still contributing massively. Eight goal involvements in the opening five games displays how the Finn took his form from the Championship and applied it onto an altogether bigger stage.
Although, since that Manchester City victory, his attacking productivity has reduced dramatically. His lack of influence has coincided with the teams poor run in form that sees them winless in five fixtures.
So that begs the question, has the Premier League latched onto Pukki's talents and learnt to nullify them? Or are City's tactical decisions affecting how involved he is at present?
In reality, the answer can probably be located somewhere between the two.
Tactically, City have altered their approach in order to stabilise a leaking ship. Given how easily they've been conceding chances, the emphasis has been on solidifying the central phase of the pitch in an attempt to stabilise the defensive area of their game.
That comes at a sacrifice of offensive freedom. Pukki's number of shots outside the box since that Manchester City game has increased from one to four.
A prominent strength of his is receiving the ball within the penalty area and working a yard of space for a shot. His intelligence is a crucial component and, at present, City's lack of balance in midfield means his runs aren't being found.
Opponents are also shining a more prominent light on him given the underlying statistics highlight his contribution for City.
If you can nullify the Finn, there's an argument to say you prevent City attacking with any real purpose.
His goal for Finland against Armenia was an exquisite illustration of his prowess. Locating space with intelligence before effectively penetrating it to hurt teams and get beyond defensive lines.
City are increasingly struggling to work the overloads they created in the Championship and lack the variation in their attacking play to displace teams who deploy a low block.
Compact defences have led to City being forced into more crossing positions, with Pukki preferring to feed off balls into feet and passes through the defensive lines.
If City want to recapture Pukki's goal-scoring form, a component that will prove pivotal to Premier League survival, then they need to discover a remedy to overcome teams' defensive approaches.