Manchester United this afternoon host relegation-strugglers Norwich in the Premier League on Saturday, looking to bounce back from an underwhelming fortnight that has seen Ralf Rangnick’s side draw at home to Leicester and defeated at Everton.
United have seven matches to close the six-point gap between themselves and fourth-placed Tottenham. Rangnick’s side must put together a positive run if they are to have any chance of qualifying for the Champions League, and are looking to start that run with a win over the Canaries.
Dean Smith’s side are currently rooted to the foot of the Premier League table and have between now and the end of the season to close a seven-point gap between them and safety. One man they will be relying on to help realize that aim is Teemu Pukki.
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Pukki has scored nine goals this season, equal with United’s prolific midfielder Bruno Fernandes, and most recently notched in Norwich’s 2-0 win over relegation rivals Burnley last week. That goal against Burnley was Pukki’s 75th for Norwich since his debut in 2018 and marked his 150th appearance for the club.
The Finnish international has seemingly rediscovered his goalscoring touch in recent weeks, racking up three Premier League goals in the past five matches. In that time Norwich have won one match and drawn one to breathe new life into their hopes of escaping relegation.
Pukki has an eye for goal which could pose an issue for a United side who have failed to keep a clean sheet in the last four Premier League matches. In fact, Ralf Rangnick’s side have conceded eight goals in that time, including a big 4-1 defeat at Manchester City at the beginning of March.
But it isn’t just Pukki’s goalscoring that is a danger; the Finnish striker is diligent and determined, slowly putting defenses under pressure. In the Premier League this season, no player has made more final-third pressures than the 32-year old.
With 287 final-third pressures, Pukki is above former Red, Daniel James (237), and Mohammed Salah (226), whose Leeds and Liverpool sides are famed for their unrelenting energy and dogged approach to defending from the front. For an already shaky United defense that will be without the injured Raphael Varane, Pukki’s defensive work rate could present a real problem for the Reds.
In addition, the statistics show that if Norwich’s no.9 gets on the scoresheet at the Theater of Dreams, his goal could be vital. Of Pukki’s nine Premier League goals this season, only four of them have come in losses, and Dean Smith will be hoping his Finnish striker can catapult his side to a shock result at Old Trafford.
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With matches against title-chasing Liverpool and top-four rivals Arsenal to follow Saturday’s clash with Norwich, the next week is massive for United’s season. The Reds simply cannot afford to slip up and must win every match possible.
Bottom-of-the-table Norwich present the perfect opportunity to inspire a strong run-in, but Rangnick will need his side to be on their toes to thwart Pukki & Co.