Frustrated Pukki encapsulates Norwich's attacking struggles
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Teemu Pukki's time at Norwich City has been accompanied with a regular stream of goals, but now the Finn has seen his supply line dry up and is cutting an increasingly frustrated figure.
These feelings have been expressed by the Finland international in private. Faced against deep blocks and sides looking to shackle City's attacking threat, Pukki hasn't been as productive in terms of goal output.
Pukki enjoys playing on the periphery of matches before making a darting run into space and latching on a through ball. He seems to possess ice in his veins that makes him both decisive and devastating in front in goal.
In December, he notched up his half-century of Canaries goals in only 100 appearances when he scored a brace at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers. He hasn't managed a goal in open play since that day in the north-west.
Injury has stifled his progress, but if you caught Pukki in a quiet moment, he would express his frustration at the lack of space he has to operate in. Two seasons ago, the Finnish international could play on the shoulder and had acres of space to utilise.
Now, his movements have to come in short bursts. Beyond the exception of Bristol City away, Pukki's runs have been about dropping deep rather than stretching the play.
This game at the Liberty Stadium was no different. His task becomes even more thankless without creator in chief Emi Buendia for company.
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Pukki's quality hasn't diminished. Nor has his importance to Norwich's attacking displays, but opponents are beginning to discover a way to frustrate City, and his card is marked after a 29-goal season last time out.
There is no denying that there is an uncharacteristic hesitance to his work in front of goal. That was evident at the Den in midweek as he took a milli-second too long before unleashing a strike just before half-time.
In many ways, the Finn encapsulates City's current offensive struggles. Off-colour, struggling for service and looking frustrated.
It was the same story for Pukki at the Liberty Stadium on Friday evening.
In the opening five minutes, he displayed his willingness to make life uncomfortable for the Swans defenders and nearly forced a mistake out of goalkeeper Freddie Woodman when he pressed the on-loan Newcastle United shot-stopper with real intensity.
The assured Marc Guehi did handle Pukki well and successfully drew fouls against City's talisman that just prevented him from getting into his rhythm. Pukki was tasked with playing against three central defenders, a thankless task when being deployed as a lone striker.
His big opportunity to open the scoring arrived after 23 minutes. Some positive play from Todd Cantwell saw Pukki make a clever run between Guehi and Jake Bidwell. The 22-year-old academy graduate picked him out masterfully, but the Finn dragged his effort wide of the post.
Pukki's shot lacked conviction and the connection wasn't as true or as ruthless as City supporters have come to expect since he joined the club on a free transfer in 2018. Woodman scrambled to his right, but the 30-year-old failed to get his effort on target.
The angle was acute, but Pukki has been the expert into converting those chances and accurately finding the net.
Three minutes later, Pukki had another chance to open the scoring.
Positive work by Przemek Placheta down the left allowed Cantwell to pick up possession on the edge of the area. He found Pukki in the box and was demanding a return pass, only for the striker to unleash a tame shot on the turn.
City's performance did improve after they conceded the second goal, but they failed to find a route back into the fixture. Swansea are obdurate defensively and have only conceded 15 goals during the current campaign.
Despite Steve Cooper's side outperforming their defensive statistics, Norwich failed to create a plethora of chances worthy of extracting a point or more out of the fixture.
Pukki did have arguably the greatest chance to reduce the deficit late on but skied his curling shot over the bar after good work from substitute Onel Hernandez.
There is a well-repeated maxim in football that claims strikers are only as good as the supply line they receive. City are struggling to carve out high-quality chances, and Pukki has been reduced largely to scraps.
The underlying data still points towards this being a blip rather a downward trend, and Pukki possesses too much quality not to rediscover his Midas touch in front of goal.
And how Norwich City need it.
VERDICT: A disappointing and frustrating evening for the experienced Finn. Space is a hard commodity to come by for any Norwich striker at present, with Pukki spending too much time with his back to goal rather than on the shoulder. He is still Norwich's most capable striker, and they require him to enable their desired style of play.