Penalties have never been greater than in 2020. The introduction of VAR into top European leagues, combined with revisions to the handball law, has contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of kicks awarded throughout the world. long game.
There have been 41 penalties in 78 Premier League appearances this season. By comparison, there were only 92 awards in the 380 games of the 2019-2020 campaign. If the referees continue to make decisions at the same pace, that projects a staggering 195 penalties in 2020-2021, and nowhere has the impact of more penalties been clear except in the interpretation of a handball.
The numbers show that the rewrite of the handball law in 2019 played a key role, not to mention how the VAR decides on every decision. Serie A and La Liga immediately implemented the new law, but the Premier League has allowed referees to continue with a more relaxed approach until this season.
A revised interpretation of the handball law was first used during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which was subsequently used by most of the major leagues in 2018-19, with 37 penalties awarded for handball in Serie A and 35 in La Liga. In England, according to a more traditional interpretation, there were only 14.
But penalties exploded after handball was officially revised in the Laws of the Game ahead of the 2019-20 season, making the rule much stricter. There were 57 in Italy and 48 in Spain, but only 20 in the Premier League – again, due to a more traditional interpretation.
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However, FIFA has called for more uniformity and Premier League referees are now informed that they must award fouls for handballs, regardless of their intention, whenever a player has made his body 'abnormally larger'. tall ". A classic example of this came on November 8 when Joe Gomez came on trial for handling Kevin De Bruyne's cross as Liverpool drew 1-1 at Manchester City.
"It's frustrating and I know they made an adaptation to the rule, but at some point you have to watch the game in real time," Gomez after the game. “Anyone in slow motion can say, 'Yeah, that hit their hands,' but judge a script for what it is and it's not done on the fly. "
The arbitrators also agree. This is why the IFAB (International Football Association Board) will discuss a proposal from UEFA – supported by the Premier League – to return to a more liberal interpretation of the rule of handball when the technical committee meets on November 23. to discuss changes in laws for 2021-2022. UEFA is concerned because the Champions League also reflects the trend: in the last two seasons there have been 12 penalties awarded for handball (out of 111 in total), but there have already been 11 in the three first days of 2020-2021 (36 penalties in total).
The end result is that taking penalties has become a key skill that increasingly determines a team's success. So how do teams try to sharpen their kicking skills, who are the best 12-yard players and how are they so effective?
There is only one man to start with when discussing the art of taking penalties in English football: Gareth Southgate. The former center-back missed the decisive kick in England's Euro 96 semi-final defeat to Germany, cementing the cornerstone of a historic barrier he later attempted to break down as a coach.
Few have looked at the psychology of penalties as much as Southgate, anxious to take over an England squad that left major tournaments in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2012 due to their 12-yard nerf failure.
Under Southgate, England won their first penalty shootout at a World Cup, beating Colombia in the round of 16 two years ago. It was the culmination of exhaustive work that included practicing penalties at the end of training sessions to replicate overtime fatigue, detailed instructions on walking to the penalty spot, overall mental preparation , more intensive study of the opponent. goalies and perfecting multiple penalties under pressure rather than relying on a single preferred kick.
But how does this work evolve over time? After all, the numbers show that the most popular takers are now deployed more often for the club and the country, leaving a real danger of becoming predictable in their approach.
“Regular penalty shooters would do this job on their own, really,” Southgate told ESPN last week. “I think the players are training, and you are always willing as coaches to lend them time on that, but these regular takers have dedicated routines that they're comfortable with, they know the type. of preparation they want to undergo, they know how much they want to practice, they know how they want to practice it.
“They've got a very clear picture in their minds and where we've tried to influence people's thinking is with those who don't take as regularly, because I think if you start playing with a technique that doesn't need to be fixed, so you can probably only make it worse.
“[For] our regular takers, we make it easier to practice and are there to make some observations, but really, we have players with very, very good results for their clubs – [Marcus] Rashford and [Harry] Kane in particular – and they just keep training with another group that is also looking to take penalties with their clubs, or take them less regularly for their clubs. We are fortunate to have some very good executors of this skill, really. "
Southgate has taken a forensic approach to piercing a collective psychological fog that has left a generation of English players framing penalties as a lottery rather than an executable skill, and Kane perhaps embodies it better than most. The 27-year-old has scored 22 of his last 23 penalties across all competitions and is known for practicing up to 50 shots on goal in a single session. His foolproof 12-yard accuracy was a key factor in getting England to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.
Frank Lampard was part of the generation after Southgate who battled inner demons from the penalty spot, playing in two tournaments that ended in shootout failures, scoring himself in the Euro quarterfinal defeat 2004 against Portugal, before missing in the exit of the quarter-final of the 2006 World Cup., Also against Portugal. Yet Lampard has been remarkably consistent at the club level, scoring 43 of 50 attempts in the Premier League. Only Alan Shearer (55) has marked more in the history of the competition.
“You actually won't get the best answer from me because I'm pretty superstitious about penalties – I was as a taker,” Lampard told ESPN. “Maybe it was part of my process to accept them. I've probably adapted my style over the course of my career based on form, if I lacked any, on my position, which I sometimes focused a lot on before stepping away from it. .
“Because I was like that as a player, I tend not to go too far into the minds of the penalty shooters on our team. I trust them, their style and the way they take them. That's why they occupy these positions. I let them continue – I won't discuss anything further to move forward. "
Players have to rely to some degree on their gut feelings and thoughtless past patterns due to the exhaustive video analysis work done by top clubs. And with more penalties awarded, there is more evidence available.
Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster saved a penalty against Blackburn in the league on October 21 and told ESPN how he managed to predict where Adam Armstrong would shoot.
“As a goalkeeper you don't expect you to save a penalty, but there are lots of little tips and tricks you can do to try and gain that little edge,” he said. told ESPN. “We always monitor the penalties of the player who normally takes the penalty – we will monitor his previous type of nine or 10 penalties wherever he is.
“I'm trying to take some clues or some clues. Blackburn's was a prime example. On the videos, he put six on the right and two on the left. And the two he put on the left, he did this little jig, this little reshuffle, then I went to the penalty. As soon as I saw him do that, I thought "you're going to my left here" even though he preferred the right, and luckily it was a nice height for me to save him. "
Players who thrive in this highly controlled and technologically advanced era find the right balance between routine and unpredictability to stay ahead of the crowd.
Top 11 penalty shooters since 2017 (league games only)
1. Ciro Immobile, FW, Lazio: 26 points out of 28 takes (92.9% success rate)
The Lazio forward has only missed twice since 2017 and has maintained the second highest conversion rate despite having the highest number of anyone in Europe's top five leagues.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo, FW, Juventus: 22 out of 25 (88%)
Ronaldo inevitably took on penalty duties at Juventus after leaving Real Madrid in 2018, missing one in his final year in Spain before two failures for the Bianconeri against Verona and Sampdoria.
3. Luka Milivojevic, MF, Crystal Palace: 19 out of 21 (90.5%)
Has missed only twice since joining Palace from Olympiakos in 2017. The Serbian midfielder has a higher conversion rate than Ronaldo but sits below him after taking four kicks less.
4.Sergio Ramos, DF, Real Madrid: 15 out of 16 (93.8%)
The center-back has the highest conversion rate of any player for taking more than 11 penalties and scoring a high pressure kick in his 45th Clasico last month.
5. Neymar, FW, PSG: 13 out of 14 (92.9%)
Like Ramos, the Brazilian would be higher if there was a larger sample, but PSG have only suffered 13 league penalties since 2017. The one he missed in Ligue 1 is the last he has taken, against Saint-Etienne in December 2019.
6. Robert Lewandowski, FW, Bayern Munich: 16 out of 18 (88.9%)
The Polish goal machine has the best conversion rate of any player to take more than 20 penalties, but the relatively small number Bayern Munich have secured has denied it top spot.
7. Dani Parejo, MF, Villarreal: 16 of 18 (88.9%)
The 31-year-old is yet to take a penalty this season, with Santi Cazorla first choice at Villarreal, and the veteran midfielder has missed his last in La Liga for his former club Valencia. That said, Parejo's consistency puts him on the list.
8. Fabio Quagliarella, FW, Sampdoria: 22 out of 27 (81.5%)
A veteran now, 37 years old, but still prolific from 12 meters. However, five misfires, including three last season – against Atalanta, Brescia and Parma – damaged his conversion rate.
9. Jamie Vardy, FW, Leicester City: 18 out of 22 (81.8%)
The former England striker scored one and missed another in the same game against Wolves last weekend, but he's generally reliable from 12 yards.
10. Lionel Messi, FW, Barcelona: 13 out of 16 (81.3%)
It would be rude to describe any part of Messi's game as weakness, but penalties have never been his strong suit.
11. Harry Kane, FW, Tottenham: 10 out of 11 (90.9%)
Kane would be much higher on this list if penalties in European and international competition were included. Not only scores, but usually sends the ball past helpless goalkeepers.