Connor Southwell: City should stick with Pukki up front - for now
PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 October 2020
Teemu Pukki scores goals in the Championship – that’s a statement that isn’t in dispute.
The empirical evidence of two seasons ago backs it up, overwhelmingly. When fully-fit, confident and firing, Pukki is one of the best strikers outside of the top flight.
If Norwich City can construct a productive supply time to the Finn, then they will source goals. There’s a simplicity to that statement.
In practice, creating that offensive fluidity to make those chances for Pukki will be tougher in reality.
There’s been plenty of analysis and dissection of City’s performances of late, but the simple fact is they shouldn’t have left Carrow Road with nothing a week ago and should have picked something up against Bournemouth.
Underpinning those results have been ever-improving performances – that suggests the results will follow in time. But Daniel Farke isn’t a man with plenty of it on his side.
A backdrop of expectation is whipping up frenzy after every result. Some of City’s attacking efforts have been confusing.
That isn’t the fault of the Finn, however. If City want to work the ball into crossing positions, as has been the trend in the opening four matches, then Pukki isn’t the man who should be relied upon as a lone striker.
Despite his 29-goal haul in the Championship two seasons ago, he isn’t a miracle worker who can feed off crossing opportunities from deep. He’s scored two headers in his time with City – that’s enough to show he doesn’t possess the tools required to make this work.
What he did show, as was the case last time out in the Championship, was a ruthless ability to slot in chances when played beyond the defensive line via a through ball.
Likewise, it wasn’t just goals he offered during that season: he enabled City’s style of play with his technical capabilities also.
If anything, the debate isn’t about Pukki, it’s about what is going on behind him.
Norwich haven’t been direct enough in possession; those spells of possession have been worked into wide areas rather than penetrating defensive shapes, something we saw at the pomp of Farke’s philosophy two years ago.
It’s too early to tell whether that is the tactical instructions of the head coach or merely a by-product of an unsettled side seeking to gain confidence.
Onel Hernandez has received the ball in promising opportunities but has lacked the thrust you’d usually associate with him. Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia have got on the ball in deeper areas, although the latter did pass into space excellently against Derby.
These show that the possession isn’t flowing through the thirds as Farke may wish. But it’s also unclear as to why this is the case.
At present, numerous factors could be in play. A lack of cohesion, tactical unfamiliarity or confidence - but City’s underlying offensive numbers are fairly positive.
That suggests there will be an improvement providing they can inject that directness into their supply line. If they can, then they have a striker in Pukki who can score goals from a variety of positions.
Farke’s willingness to persist with Pukki over the more physical options, Adam Idah and Jordan Hugill, suggest crossing isn’t part of the plan - as a rule, its source has been from Xavi Quintilla.
That could be a lack of understanding as to the minor details of his individual instructions rather than him being directly told to whip in crosses at regular intervals.
The fundamentals of Farke’s philosophy indicate that crossing isn’t something typically associated with his preferred philosophy.
He’s a coach wedded to his ideas, regardless of whether City are romping to the title or suffering a demoralising relegation.
Integrating widespread change and then communicating the intricacies of a complex philosophy would lead to teething problems from an offensive sense - you can’t possess individual quality and expect them to be a cohesive outfit in the opening four games of the season.
Football is a bit more complicated than that.
There are intangibles in play, several of which are restricting City from playing in a manner supporters have become accustomed to under Farke.
Exchanging Pukki for Hugill won’t solve those problems for now – minutes on the training pitch will.
At present, it feels like direct penetration is being sacrificed somewhere, potentially because of the shift to a functional rather than a technical midfield.
But the problems aren’t the fault of Pukki and the evidence suggests they could be resolved.
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