Norwich City, 2018–
In uninspiring spells at Sevilla, Schalke and Celtic, Teemu Pukki struggled for goals for a significant portion of his career. However, he changed that at Brondby between 2014 and 2018, and earned a move to Norwich, where he has scored consistently. In Daniel Farke’s ambitious team, Pukki is perfectly at home, the club’s top scorer in each of his first three seasons at Carrow Road.
The team’s bold, attacking football suits Pukki’s game, and Farke appears to be the right manager to get the most out of the Finn. Farke is in no doubt about Pukki’s ability. “Teemu for me is the best player and the best striker in the Championship,” Farke said. “He is selfless – (not only) his workload in terms of pressing and winning balls back, but also how he delivers goals, too.”
There is more to Pukki than his goal threat, but his runs in behind the opposition’s defence is certainly the most significant aspect of his game. He is skilled at curving his movements to remain onside and also times his direct runs in behind well, too, always looking to exploit any disorganisation at the back.
Some strikers are only comfortable running in on goal from one side, which can restrict them if they are used as the lone striker. That is not the case with Pukki, who makes fluid movements across the pitch, but he usually prioritises the space between a central defender and full-back. By curving his runs from outside the full-back into the space behind the defence, he is able to run on to through balls diagonally towards goal. Pukki is just as capable, meanwhile, running between the two central defenders, moving on the blindside of the nearest defender to gain an advantage on his opponents (below).
He isn’t the quickest centre-forward around – although he certainly isn’t slow – but he gets the timing of his runs so spot on that he often manages to get in on goal against the odds. He delays his run to match the timing of the release and is caught offside remarkably infrequently given how often he looks to run through on goal.
Close to goal, Pukki shows impressive composure and finishing ability. He rarely rushes his shots and finds the corners of the net consistently. He scores a large proportion of his goals from close range and off a first-time finish, but when he has time to set himself, he likes to use an element of disguise when shooting. He often reverses shots across his body to send a goalkeeper in the wrong direction, while also attempting to hide the power and height of his shots. He uses minimal backlift and regularly finds the top corner of the net with his shots.
When he can’t get a shot off first time, Pukki is very skilled at keeping the time between his first and second touches as short as possible. This means he can take advantage of goalkeepers moving into a set position after he takes his first touch and quickly firing off towards goal (below).
He doesn’t get involved in build-up play very much, focusing most of his attention instead on threatening goal. However, his composure in front of goal also extends to the occasions he withdraws into positions to combine with runners. He is very calm on the ball, shows good close control and good vision, too. He actually creates more chances than his persistently low assist tally would have you believe.
Role at Norwich
As the lone striker in Farke’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Pukki’s first responsibility is to make penetrative runs in behind an opposing defence. He likes to stay close to goal, and spends long periods stationed between the centre-backs, pinning them back as far up the pitch as possible. Defenders are often forced back into deeper territory in an attempt to deny Pukki the space he wants to operate in. However, doing so leaves gaps between the lines for Norwich’s talented attacking midfielders to exploit.
Emi Buendía and Todd Cantwell play in the wide positions in the attacking midfield three behind Pukki, with Kieran Dowell coming through in the number 10 position, and the other options the less creative and more functional Mario Vrancic and Marco Stiepermann. Norwich’s full-backs are also encouraged to get forwards and support Pukki.
This means Pukki often has lots of teammates around him. Even when Norwich played in the Premier League they were daring in how many players they committed forwards – something that certainly contributed to the high number of goals they conceded in 2019/20.
Norwich are admirably committed to playing a short-passing game, and with the full-backs providing the team’s width, they aim to get the ball into the feet of their creative players – if possible Buendía and Cantwell – in the half-spaces. From here, Pukki will pull away from his nearest markers and the aim is to slip him in on goal (above). After Buendía or Cantwell move centrally – from outside to inside – it will generally be the case that Pukki moves in-to-out to get into a shooting position from wide. Even from these positions he is very good at finding the net.
It is rare for Pukki ever to stray too far from goal, and given the attack-minded nature of Norwich’s play, they have a large volume of shots, and it is Pukki’s job to prey on loose balls close to goal. He is quick to react to opportunities when the ball is bouncing around the six-yard box and also to counter-press when the ball is lost. He scores a fair few poachers goals as a result of this. A striker who had struggled for goals for much of his career, Pukki has found his goal-scoring touch under Farke at Norwich.