City report card: City hoping Pukki can re-discover his spark
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
If Norwich City want to replicate their Championship success from two years ago, then a fit and firing Teemu Pukki will be essential.
The Finnish international has had a complex and multifaceted campaign.
In the early part of the season, everything Pukki touched turned to goals. Whether it be a low drive at Anfield or a storming hat-trick against Newcastle United, the 30-year-old looked set to adapt to life in the Premier League seamlessly.
Pukki was quickly becoming a legend in these quarters, a near 30-goal haul in the Championship saw him sweep awards from every possible category.
City’s gamble was looking increasingly like a masterstroke. A natural finisher who enabled their technical philosophy to flourish, Daniel Farke had discovered a man capable of combining slick interchanging passes with a ruthlessness in front of goal.
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Fast forward to the end of the season, and a confidence-shattered Pukki squandered a one-on-one against Ederson in City’s defeat to Manchester City that he would have finished with his eyes closed a year previous.
Currently, he looks like a man who is beginning to feel the amount of miles clocking up on his dashboard.
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Whether it be for Finland or for the Canaries, the onus has been on him to produce the goods and that burden has seemed to weigh heavily on his modest shoulders since the turn of the year.
Without a goal from open play since December and a league strike since February, Pukki is currently enduring a dry spell.
But City will need him to be fresh and prolific again in the Championship.
Of course, that barren run has mitigating circumstances. His wife is heavily pregnant and back home in Finland whilst his aspirations of competing at Euro 2020 were put on ice due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The fear is that the Finn is beginning to regress, that City have squeezed all they can out of an experienced professional and he is left running on fumes.
Suggestions from Finland state Pukki is merely ending a period of 18 months where over-performance was witnessed rather than a steep decline in his ability.
In the Premier League, defenders quickly caught on to how to nullify his threat. They covered space in behind more efficiently and sought to engage in physical battles with the Finn.
However, the Canaries cannot afford to lose a 29-goal striker from their ranks – merely because replacing that quality will demand a fee well in excess of their financial resources.
A man who possesses unwavering belief in the striker is the City boss, and he made no bones about his desire for Pukki to lead City’s Championship fightback.
“He is a key player for us,” he said. “He started 32 Premier League games. That says a lot about my trust and belief in him. He finished as the top scorer again. The second part of the season was difficult for him because we struggled as a team.
“He missed a few chances and the same in this game. The lockdown period was a bit difficult and not many players in world football have played so much in the past 24 months.
“He is so important for us and his national team and you could feel in this second part of the season he was a bit tired.”
After relegation to the Championship was confirmed, Pukki’s international boss Markku Kanerva was quick to stress his desire for City’s striker to challenge himself in one of Europe’s top divisions.
But, from City’s perspective, there is no willingness from Pukki’s camp to force a move away from the club nor do they wish to lose one of their prized assets.
From Farke’s perspective, there is no concern over Pukki.
“I am not worried about Teemu. The best strikers in the world can miss chances,” said the City head coach. “Teemu had to work a lot in this game. Of course he is not full of confidence.
“But not just for Teemu, for all of us it is important to draw a line under this season, to recharge, clear the head, and have a fresh start.
“I am pretty sure we will see Teemu deliver again for us in many, many situations.”
Underpinning everything that Pukki does is a graft and a modesty. His colleagues regularly comment about his composure and coolness.
City need to re-discover that spark and confidence that saw him claim the Championship Golden Boot in 2019.
If they manage to do that, then they are conscious of the talent they have within their ranks.