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Party like Pukki: An analysis of Finland's breakout football star

Yle News looks at the facts and figures behind the stellar rise of Teemu Pukki, an up-and-coming goalscoring sensation.

Teemu Pukki Norwich Chelsea
Teemu Pukki scoring against Chelsea in the Premier League on 31 August 2019. Image: AOP

Anfield Road, Liverpool. It is 63 minutes into Norwich City's visit to the famous old stadium, and their first game back in the Premier League, when Teemu Pukki makes one of this trademark runs in behind the opponent's defensive line, controls the ball with one neat touch, and fires a shot across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner of the net.

The manner of Pukki’s first ever goal in England’s top division has become something of a trademark for the Finnish striker, and demonstrated to a global audience the Kotka native’s on-field strengths: fast, calculated movement and precise finishing.

The goal, despite it’s quality, did not change the overall complexion of the game at Anfield, as the European Champions Liverpool ran out eventual 4-1 winners against the newly-promoted Canaries. On a personal level however, Pukki’s goal was an important accomplishment. It provided further evidence of his continued progression, which has increased rapidly under the watchful eye of Norwich’s German coach Daniel Farke, also a former striker.

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Pukki Graphic 1
Image: Juha Rissanen/Yle

Teemu Pukki was the subject of much discussion among pundits and fans prior to the kick off of the new Premier League season, with many questioning the Finn's ability to step up to the level demanded at England's top table. The doubters have been silenced for the time being by the five goals Pukki scored in his first three Premier League appearances.

This phenomenal record led to Pukki becoming only the third Finn to ever win the Professional Footballers’ Association's (PFA's) Player of the Month award, all of which goes some way towards proving that his tally of 29 goals in the English Championship last season was no fluke.

Anatomy of a goalscorer

Last season, Pukki scored a goal every 132 minutes in the Championship, England's second tier, as Norwich earned promotion to the Premier League. So far this season, now in the Premier League, his record is a goal every 72 minutes. In total, Pukki has played 50 competitive matches in the yellow and green of Norwich, and scored 35 goals, which means that Norwich fans have celebrated a Pukki goal every 120 minutes since he signed for the club on 30 June 2018.

Based on statistics provided by the football analytics website Statsbomb, Pukki is at his most dangerous towards the very end of a game, as 12 goals out of his total of 35 for the Canaries have come in either the last 10 minutes of a game, or within added time.

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Pukki Graphic 2
Image: Juha Rissanen/Yle

For the most part, Pukki is a penalty area goalscorer, or what used to be known as a "fox in the box" - although the Finn does have much more to his game than just goalscoring. Of his 29 goals in the Championship last season, only one came from outside the penalty area, and all five of his goals in the Premier League this season have come from within the 18 yard box.

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Pukki Graphic 3
Source: Statsbomb. Image: Juha Rissanen/Yle

And within the penalty area, Pukki tends to operate along certain channels, attempting to time his runs between and behind the defensive line. Once he receives the ball in these positions, he usually takes one or at most two touches before attempting to get a shot away.

Such speed and movement is difficult to defend against, as exemplified by the goal against Liverpool.

Norwich's style of play - short passes in search of clever runs - has proved to be the perfect fit for Pukki. The understanding he has developed with Norwich's Argentinian playmaker Emiliano Buendia - who laid on the assist for the goal at Anfield - has been particularly lucrative in terms of chances created.

This was particularly evident in the Championship last season, and Pukki has a very competitive record in terms of opportunities taken. He scored his 29 goals in the Championship from just 144 shots, meaning about every fifth shot resulted in a goal. In the Premier League, Pukki has so far only needed 14 shots to score five goals, or a current record of one goal for every three shots.

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Pukki Graphic 4
Source: Statsbomb. Image: Juha Rissanen/Yle

In terms of precision, Pukki has developed a knack for finding the very corner of the net, making it as difficult as possible for the opposing goalkeeper: with as much as 40 percent of his goals for Norwich nestling in the bottom right hand corner - if the goal is divided into six equal parts, as per the graphic below.

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Pukki Graphic 5
Source: Statsbomb. Image: Juha Rissanen/Yle

Great goal expectations

In recent years, a new term has entered the footballing lexicon: expected goals, or xG. This refers to the likelihood that a chance will result in a goal, based on factors such as distance from the goal, angle to the goal, proximity to the nearest defender, and if the shot is taken with the player's strong foot, weak foot or head.

By collecting and analysing data from past games, xG attempts to predict how efficient a player will be in the future.

In the Championship last season, Pukki was not just the league's top scorer, but he also led the xG chart - with an overall reading of 23.69 and a xG per 90 minutes reading of 0.52. This means that Pukki is expected to score a goal every other game.

In the Premier League, Pukki's xG rating is 0.47, suggesting that if he continues to score at his current rate, he would end the season with 18 goals from 38 Premier League matches.

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Pukki Graphic 6
Expected Goals (xG) is a statistical measure of the quality of chances created and conceded. Source: Statsbomb. Image: Juha Rissanen/Yle

Working hard in attack and defence

As mentioned above, Pukki is not just a goalscorer. He has also developed a reputation as a hard worker when his team is not in possession. The statistics again bear this out, revealing that of the top goal scorers in the Championship last season, Pukki was also first in terms of closing down and putting pressure on opponents when his team did not have the ball.

Statsbomb also collects data on players' defensive activity, with a model that calculates so-called 'pressing performance'.

According to this data, Pukki recorded a total of 894 presses in the Championship last season, or 19.61 for every 90 minutes he played, putting him well above any of the other top goal scorers.

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Pukki Graphic 7
Pressing performance refers to a player putting the player in possession of the ball under pressure. Source: Statsbomb. Image: Juha Rissanen/Yle

Finland watches with anticipation

The Premier League is now on an international break, so Pukki has joined his Huuhkajat, or Eagle Owls, teammates for the European Championship qualifying games against Greece and Italy, in what is arguably the most important double header of matches in the history of the Finnish national team.

Similar to his relationship with Farke at Norwich, Pukki has benefited hugely from working under Finland coach Markku Kanerva. When Kanerva was appointed the Finnish team's coach in December 2016, Pukki was going through something of a goal drought. Since then however, he has re-found his goalscoring touch on the international stage - including hitting the net six times in the 10 games up to the summer of 2019.

Pukki added to that tally with a penalty that secured the three points against Greece on Thursday. If he can he deliver once more against Italy on Sunday, it would be a massive step for Finland towards finally achieving that much-coveted and long-desired historic first-ever spot in a European Championship Finals tournament.

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