Of all the teams that got promoted this season to the English Premier League, Norwich City is looking like the one most likely to stay up. Aston Villa have a good squad but they are yet to produce a result that makes one sit up. Yes, they did beat Everton by 2-0 at Villa Park but given the Toffees’ form, I do not believe that is too significant. Sheffield United have won but only against the currently underwhelming Crystal Palace. They have earned a creditable draw against Chelsea as well.
However, Norwich are clearly leading the promoted teams’ pack at present with two wins from five games. And what wins they have been! When they dismantled Newcastle by 3-1 at home, pundits gave more credit to Magpies’ shoddiness than to the Canaries’ brilliance. But, with the 3-2 win against the Champions Manchester City last Saturday, Norwich certainly made everyone take notice.
There are several factors behind Norwich’s strong start to the Premier League campaign. Daniel Farke have the Canaries playing in an attractive 4-2-3-1, the continuity of which allows Norwich to be closer to their brilliance in the Championship last season. Farke has his team press opponents situationally and they do it brilliantly, a case in point being the third goal against Manchester City, when Cantwell caught Otamendi with a brilliant press. In passing they boast of an accuracy rate better than the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United. So clearly, Norwich are doing a lot of things well, which has led them to be the best among the latest promoted teams.
However, the single most important factor for Norwich since the start of the season is Teemu Pukki. The Finnish international who joined the Canaries last season on a free transfer from Brondby, while Norwich were still in the Championship, set the scoring charts on fire in the Championship last season and led his team to the Championship title, and hence to the Premier League. He was the lead scorer in the Championship last season having scored 29 goals in 3828 minutes, with a goal every 132 minutes.
Pukki’s Goals Continue to Hold Norwich Up
In a great start to their season, Norwich have scored 9 goals in five games. Pukki has scored 6 of those and assisted 2 of them, with a goal contribution every 56 minutes. Norwich shoot 9.6 shots per game, and Pukki takes 3.4 of those. With about 1/3rd of the shots, Pukki is currently scoring 2/3rd of Norwich’s goals.
A look at Pukki’s attacking stats above tells us how he achieves that. He clearly is not a shoot at sight kind of a player. Rather, he takes most of his shots from inside the opponents’ penalty box, leading to a decent number of shots on target per shots taken. But most importantly, Pukki converts difficult chances with relative ease. Against Liverpool, from 2 shots, he had a xG of 0.07 but he still converted a goal. Similarly against Chelsea, he had an xG of just 0.19 but he still got a goal. His more prolific performance so far was against Newcastle when he had 7 shots, 6 of them on target, for a total xG of 1.02 but he grabbed himself a hattrick. Clearly, he has a knack for scoring from tough spots. And his goalscoring prowess is not only limited to domestic games. Rather, he grabbed himself a couple of goals in the international break that ended before last week.
Not only does he score well, Pukki also fares well in the league, in terms of other attacking stats. 5 key passes in 5 games, including 2 successes – that too against Liverpool and Chelsea. He likes to dribble past opponents as well – he has attempted a dribble 15 times and he has met with success in10 instances. No wonder than that Pukki has a total xG per 90 and xA per 90 of 0.54 and 0.43 respectively, which means it is almost certain that Pukki will be involved in a goal, if he is on the pitch for 90 minutes. Of the 5 chances he has created 3 were Big Chances. It is also not as if Pukki is on his attacking best for only a short period of time. Rather, his goals have been well spread out between 1st minute to the 75th minute.
When Leicester stunned everyone and won the league in 2015-16, Jamie Vardy had a similar goalscoring season. For the entire season, Vardy’s xG90 + xA90 was 0.81, just below the 0.97 for Pukki currently. Given Liverpool’s and Manchester City’s squads and their respective starts to the season, it seems unlikely that Norwich will win the league this season. However, if they end up mid-table, several points away from the relegation spots, it would not be a surprise at all. Teemu Pukki is the talisman that will keep Norwich in a healthy position in the Premier League table.