Remember September 14th? Top Boy season three had just dropped on Netflix. Charli XCX had released her album Charli the day before. Conservative MP Sam Gyimah had joined the Liberal Democrats. Feels like an age ago, right?
It’s also the day Teemu Pukki scored his most recent Premier League goal, beating Ederson from close range after his Norwich team-mate Emi Buendía took advantage of Nicolás Otamendi’s sloppiness to all but seal a surprise victory over champions Manchester City.
In the four league games since, Pukki has failed to find the net in 354 minutes on the pitch. Norwich as a team have only scored once in that time, Josip Drmić’s late consolation in a 5-1 defeat to Aston Villa, dropping from 12th to 19th in the process.
Now, we know what you’re thinking, four games isn’t that much of a drought. However, last season, Pukki only went that long without scoring once: a run of four games in March, including three in eight games, in which Norwich still recorded four victories to all but clinch promotion to the Premier League.
Five league games would be his longest drought since May 2018, during his time at Brøndby, and even his underwhelming stint at Celtic only brought one run more barren than four goalless matches in a row.
Not to worry, though. The Canaries’ next game is against the ever-welcoming Manchester United, who we’re sure will find a way to ease the Finn back into the form with which he started the season.
United have had a strange campaign, but one thing you can say about the Red Devils is that they’ve been uncharacteristically generous.
Southampton’s Jannik Vestergaard was granted his first ever goal in English football against Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team, while Matty Longstaff’s winner for Newcastle United was his first senior goal full stop.
When Aaron Cresswell curled a free-kick into the top corner of David De Gea’s net, it ended a goal drought dating back to April 2018, while Adam Lallana – scorer of Liverpool’s late equaliser in United’s last league game – hadn’t scored since May 2017, against a Middlesbrough team on their third different permanent manager since that afternoon at Anfield.
In short, four games is nothing compared to some of United’s work over recent weeks. We wouldn’t rule out Chris Sutton or Efan Ekoku getting on the scoresheet for Norwich, despite the fact that both retired more than a decade ago – when you have the power to help someone out of a funk, you can’t choose who gets to benefit.
So, time for a prediction, and we really want to stick our necks out on this one. United will start brightly, with Daniel James and Marcus Rashford at the centre of some fluid attacking moves, and those watching will decide the point against Liverpool has helped invigorate their season.
“The old Man Utd are back”, they’ll say as Scott McTominay gives them a first-half lead and Tim Krul is forced into a number of big saves. Solskjær’s team will go in 1-0 up at the break and everyone will be optimistic for the first time in god knows how long.
Then, at around the hour mark, Pukki’s moment will arrive.
Having touched the ball four times up to that point, two of them with kick-offs, he’ll receive a sniff of the chance when the ball is played into him 15 yards from goal. Suddenly, the 29-year-old will morph into Didier Drogba in his prime, spinning his defender and hitting an inch-perfect shot on the turn which gives De Gea absolutely no chance.
The goal will sap United’s energy and enthusiasm. The fans will be silenced. Children in the stands will cry. Ed Woodward will shrug his shoulders. Solskjær will spend the remainder of the match googling synonyms for “there was nothing more we could have done”.
Sometimes a team will put everything else to one side and just play the hits, and when that happens it’s all out of our hands.