Melissa Rudd: Will enforced rest be enough to see Pukki flying again?
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Remember the glorious summer of 2019? When we were all basking in the glory of a title-winning campaign, looking forward to Daniel Farke and his charges pitting their wits against the best teams in the country and having another crack at the Premier League?
Well, there were actually fewer days between City lifting the Championship trophy at Villa Park and kicking off the 2019/20 season at Anfield in August than there have been since Norwich’s last competitive fixture.
In total, 104 days would have passed between the dismal defeat at Sheffield United and Friday night’s game versus Southampton at Carrow Road. I actually had to look up the final score at Bramall Lane, though that’s probably because my mind had tried to wipe it from memory.
Whatever you think of the decision to restart the season amidst a global pandemic, no one can argue that the Premier League will resume the same competition we left behind more than three months ago. Playing games in empty stadiums is reason enough to confirm that.
Five of City’s nine remaining games are against teams in the bottom half of the table, and four of those fixtures are at Carrow Road. Norwich have won 71pc of their points on their own turf. How much of home advantage is down to the home fans? It’s impossible to say, but it will clearly be a totally different prospect for both teams in the coming weeks.
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Of course, by that reasoning it means playing away from home should be a less daunting prospect, and Norwich do need all the help they can get to turn an atrocious away record on its head in the final throes of this season.
City’s shortcomings in front of goal haven’t been limited to away fixtures, but on the road they have certainly been more stark. They have scored just six times, failing to score in 10 of 15 matches.
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When Norwich drew a blank in south Yorkshire on their last outing, it was a miscued effort on the rebound from Teemu Pukki that once again underpinned his side’s reliance on him taking his chances. They have come and gone without the net bulging with far more frequency as the season has continued.
There is a direct correlation between Pukki’s productivity in terms of goals and Norwich’s output.
Pukki scored eight of Norwich’s 14 goals in their first 10 top-flight fixtures, then only three of a combined team total of 12 in the next 10 games between November and the end of the year. Since January, Pukki has netted just twice, and City only six times in nine fixtures.
While it was always going to be a tall order to maintain his blistering start, his team-mates are also guilty of failing to step up to the plate when their top marksman has looked jaded.
Pukki has played 56 minutes more than any other Norwich player in the league so far, playing through the pain barrier of a toe injury and then a hamstring problem and still only missing a solitary league fixture.
Has he missed chances you’d expect him to bury? Yes. But he has also toiled away with very little service at times. A combination of the two meant that he had begun to look a shadow of the player who tore up defences in the early part of the season. Tired and in desperate need of a break that his manager has understandably been reluctant to give him when his side have struggled so much for goals.
That’s where this unexpected three-month lay-off could count massively in City’s favour. Norwich need their star striker to deliver if they have any chance of pulling off the great escape, and this rest period might be the rejuvenation Pukki needed to rediscover his magic touch.
Can City survive?
A result against Southampton is absolutely crucial. A win and things might look very different. Lose or even draw and it’s hard to see anything but relegation.
Who will be relegated?
West Ham. Aston Villa. Norwich.
Who is the most important player/person for City for the rest of the season?
I think the copy above may have answered that question! If Pukki gets back in the goals, Norwich have a chance. If not, on the season’s evidence so far I don’t see who else will be our saviour.