Connor Southwell: Now is not the time to lose the faith in Teemu Pukki
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Teemu Pukki has been a talismanic figure for Norwich City ever since arriving from Brondby in 2018. However, he has failed to score in open play since mid-December, but now is not the time to question the Finn, according to Connor Southwell.
Teemu Pukki's contribution to the Norwich City cause throughout the last 18 months has been nothing short of heroic.
Since his arrival from Brondby on a free transfer in 2018, the Finn has notched a remarkable 41 goals in both the Championship and the Premier League.
Statistically, his numbers underline his importance to the implementation of Daniel Farke's philosophy.
That said, the Finn is not immune from criticism despite his exploits for the Canaries. Some factions of City's fan-base are suggesting it's time to provide the Finn with a much-needed break.
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It's not just in Norfolk where Pukki is relied upon to provide the goals but also in his homeland of Finland.
His efforts helped fire Finland to the European Championships for the first time in the country's history.
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At 29, Pukki finds himself at the peak of his physical powers, but is the over-reliance from both City and Finland beginning to take its toll on the striker?
At St James' Park, Pukki was guilty of missing a number of gilt-edged chances as City failed to score despite dominating in the north east.
Given his prolific form since signing at Carrow Road, Pukki will be quickly forgiven for his struggles in front of goal.
His last goal from open play arrived against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium in mid-December.
Delve deeper into his minutes from the last 18 months and the load that has been placed on him, physically and mentally, becomes abundantly clear.
In his final season for the Danish side, Pukki played a total of 3,018 minutes, which includes his international appearances. Boil that down into weekly minutes and the Finn was playing a total of 84 minutes a week.
His first season in Norfolk saw him play 52 games for club and country, which means he clocked up 3,828 minutes in City's title-winning campaign.
That increase is noticeable within his weekly minutes, where he played 119 minutes every week last season.
Contrast that to this season where, in only six months, Pukki has recorded 35 games for both club and country - scoring 21 goals.
That return is phenomenal when you consider the 29-year-old has been playing 503 minutes a month and 126 minutes a week since August. 3,018 minutes of football played this season matches his last season in Denmark.
In comparison to other attackers in the Premier League, only Raheem Sterling has played more minutes in all competitions than City's hitman.
Even though the physical durability of the frontman is undeniable, the mental fatigue that could construct is evident.
Take that first-half moment at St James' Park when Pukki raced onto a through pass from Lukas Rupp as an example. Earlier in the season, Pukki would have located the bottom corner of the net with aplomb.
That delay, even for a millisecond, at Premier League level is enough for a defender to recover and make a clearance.
Yet, the dilemma for the City boss is that Pukki is so pivotal to the Canaries tactical identity.
His movement constructs space for others, his technical proficiency helps City's combination play in the final third and his ruthlessness in front of goal has seen him draw level with Sadio Mane and Harry Kane in the goal charts.
He is a philosophy enabler. City don't possess anther option in his mould.
Pukki's first responsibilty when City gain possession is to attack the space in behind an opposing defence.
He hunts for disorganisation and relies on curving his runs to remain onside. These runs compensate for any lack of pace Pukki may possess compared to his defensive competitors.
The final action from the Finn is a goal attempt, where his biggest strength is his composure.
From acute angles, Pukki can hit the target with accuracy. In the Premier League, with the amount of analysts and competent defenders, those drilled efforts across goal have been notified by opposing clubs.
What Pukki needs to do now is add some variation when in a one-on-one situation. By lifting the ball into the net, he could lose accuracy but adds unpredictably.
Despite a barren spell in terms of open play, Pukki's qualities enhance City's game and that is the very reason any talk of removing him from the side needs to end.