Connor Southwell: How can City carry more of an attacking threat?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's lack of cutting edge at the top end of the pitch has left both supporters and Daniel Farke frustrated during the opening four games of the Premier League season.
City's head coach praised their application and fitness after their 1-0 defeat to Arsenal, but the lack of goal threat carried so far this season is something that needs addressing should this campaign produce a different result to the most recent top-flight campaigns.
There is an argument that the calibre of opposition has undoubtedly contributed to the toothless nature of the Canaries' performances, especially given the focus has been on solidity and preventing those sides from constructing big chances.
Arsenal, despite peppering City's goal with 30 shots, only created three major chances. They all arrived after the 58th minute and showcase the low margin nature of that fixture for the first hour.
Break down that 30-shot statistic further and only seven of those found the target. Norwich blocked 11 and 13 were wayward.
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Irrespective of opposition, City have averaged just two shots on target per game which is the lowest in the division.
This is despite them ranking 15th for average shots taken per game, which would hint at either a struggle to break teams down - 14 of City's efforts have come from outside the box in the last two matches - or a lack of quality once in decent shooting areas.
There is mitigation to these numbers however, City are playing sides where dominating possession and creating chances at will is difficult due to the quality of their opponents. But it was their inability to be clinical when they created those chances two years ago that made matters worse.
In the Premier League, City won't create the volume or quality of chances as frequently as they did last term. That is why ensuring they take those opportunities will prove pivotal.
Again, there is some evidence that they are creating some goal-scoring opportunities, just not many respective to their Premier League counterparts and find themselves incapable of converting them once they do arrive.
Expected goals (xG) isn't a metric everybody is fond of for various reasons, but it does help measure the quality of chances a team is creating. Shots are given an xG value based on a number of factors, like where a shot was taken and what led up to it.
Current models produced by a host of football statistic websites rank City's xG from their opening four matches at between 3.38 and 4.19. The underperformance of their expected goals is a suggestion that the Canaries are either finishing poorly or lacking a degree of luck.
In truth, there probably needs to be a bigger data sample before we can accurately conclude which is correct. What is interesting though, is that Norwich are averaging a higher xG rate than both Leicester and Watford, which hints at a low margin encounter with the Hornets next weekend.
The Pukki problem
Perhaps most of the debate surrounding City's attacking struggles to date surround Teemu Pukki.
The change of system and departure of creator in chief Emi Buendia have both been mentioned as potential factors to the Finn's lack of impact on the pitch so far. Pukki was one of the players affected by the Covid outbreak and did find his pre-season disjointed.
When battling coronavirus, Farke revealed he had lost some muscle mass. That could hint at why his start has been slower than in previous campaigns.
In this case, the numbers back up the eye test. Pukki is cutting a frustrated figure because his supply line is limited.
Against Arsenal on Saturday, Pukki had the fewest touches (25) of any City player who started the game. His 25 touches were even bettered by midfield duo Kieran Dowell and Christos Tzolis, both of whom were substituted off before the 70th minute.
Norwich are struggling to find Pukki in their possession. Of the 30 attempted passes to the Finn, only 17 found him.
Those numbers tell a bigger story, Pukki is struggling to impact matches because he isn't seeing enough of the ball in the areas that matter. He has never been a striker that is particularly keen to drop deep in search of the ball, which makes that task he is currently fulfilling even more thankless.
It points to be a wider structural attacking issue than merely an underperformance from the Finnish international. He has proven time and time again that he will convert chances if supplied correctly.
Despite the limited amount of the ball he is witnessing at present, Pukki still had more touches in the Arsenal box than any other City player (7). Yet, he moved a total distance of just seven yards when possession in the ball, highlighting his struggle to impact proceedings further.
Pukki is seeing too little of the ball to make an impact and Norwich aren't finding him enough in possession. That is something they have attempted to remedy by getting Milot Rashica/Todd Cantwell/Kieran Dowell closer to him positionally, but it is yet to have the desired effect in terms of producing chances for him.
His isolation is graphically illustrated by his passing statistics during the 90 minute fixture on Saturday. Pukki made fewer passes in open play than all bar one City player, Adam Idah who came on with ten minutes to play.
Grounds for optimism
Where City are having joy, however, is working the ball into wide areas. Their full backs Brandon Williams and Max Aarons had the most touches in the final third on Saturday and the Canaries were able to work genuine crossing opportunities.
The inclusion of wingers such as Christos Tzolis and Milot Rashica give them the option to become a side who seek to cross during attacking phases. If they did head in that direction however, then they would need a change in personnel at the top end of the pitch.
For all of Pukki's strengths, City are struggling to find a solution to the high press and a more physical striker would allow them to clip the ball forward in order to bypass it if needed.
That said, there is no evidence to suggest that either Josh Sargent or Idah could offer the same technical qualities that Norwich benefit from through Pukki, so it could have a bigger impact on their desire to build from the back.
Either Sargent or Idah would also have a greater physical presence in the box should City elect to become a side looking to take advantage of crosses from wide areas.
City may enjoy greater success at both connecting the play to Pukki and supplying him with the type of chance he relishes against opposition who will be closer to them in the table in May.
With that in mind and given the upcoming fixtures, don't be surprised if Farke looks to coach Norwich through this period of attacking disconnect rather than swapping personnel at the first opportunity.
If these numbers do persist, City's head coach may be left with little choice but to rethink the way the Canaries attack.