Connor Southwell: How do Norwich City make a goal scorer of Emi Buendia?
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There’s no debating it - Emi Buendia, in terms of statistics, has been one of the best creative midfielders in the Premier League this season.
But, for all the key passes, progressive moments of play and pure genius created by the Argentine, there’s one column that isn’t shining quite as brightly as others - goals.
When praise for the midfielder’s performances were reaching fever pitch, it was Daniel Farke who offered a constructive voice, to temper the praise and ensure the 23-year-old remained grounded.
Statistical comparisons to Kevin de Bruyne may seem far fetched given the relative positions of the respective clubs, but City’s playmaker has been producing numbers that has taken plenty of pundits and supporters aback.
But this Argentinean hasn’t taken anyone who consumed his performances last season by surprise.
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The consistent moments of technical quality and creativity in the Championship saw him become one of the most highly-rated players in the EFL, with his supply line pivotal to Teemu Pukki securing the golden boot in the second tier.
Adaptation to life in the top flight has been seamless. On the pitch where a certain Irishman used to be the showman, Buendia is deploying his own tricks to leave supporters on the edge of their seats.
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For all the talk of his technical qualities - of which there are plenty - his defensive contributions are equally as impressive. The way in which he regains possession and uses his body to shield the ball has effectively enabled City to construct attacks in deeper areas on occasion.
His innate ability to play out of tight areas can be mesmeric, his willingness to engage defenders and deconstruct defensive blocks as tactically key - but Buendia’s brilliance does come with numerous caveats.
Buendia’s temperament could easily be perceived as petulance or arrogance - but it is the sign of a perfectionist who becomes frustrated when his hard work is squandered, sometimes that can be aimed at himself.
Despite his brilliance, Buendia’s risk taking can be detrimental to a side at times, with overplaying often a by-product of his attacking play.
When he does get it right, then City reap the rewards and Pukki in particular often profits from Buendia’s impressive range of passing.
The Finnish international’s runs are often reliant on weight and timing of a killer pass - something Buendia has supplied on multiple occasions this season.
The Canaries’ fixture against Leicester City in December displayed the potency of the pairing when they combine. That combination has been responsible for four goals this season, the joint-third best combination in the entire division this season.
Perhaps it’s little wonder that Pukki endured a goal drought at a similar point to Buendia’s limited game time and injury struggle - which escalated in a loss of confidence for the striker and City in general.
City’s reliance on Buendia for attacking productivity is abundantly clear - he connects the double pivot of Alex Tettey and Kenny McLean with City’s attacking trio behind Pukki.
That fact alone relies on Buendia occupying a deeper position or playing a longer pass to get City up the pitch to begin a counter attack. In terms of ball progression, Buendia is integral to City’s philosophy and his passes in offensive phases result in more shots when compared with any other Canaries operator.
His deeper positioning means that Buendia’s support to offensive phases often involve him being behind the ball rather than beyond it.
As a result, his goal output hasn’t been what some might hope, something that could put off big-money suitors this summer.
Alongside that, his reluctance to pull the trigger from range - something witnessed last season against Swansea City, for example - means that his return has been minimal.
The natural suggestion is to propose that the Argentine gets utilised as a natural number ten rather than from the inverted winger position Farke prefers, but Pukki requires a physical presence behind him and City need a disciplined attacking midfielder to provide structure in the central phase of the pitch.
Todd Cantwell’s positive season has arrived from his willingness to drive into the box and occupy positive positions - Buendia is looking to instigate the attacks, but his development and City’s prospects rely on him adding a series of goals to his name prior to the conclusion of the season.