As I watched striker Daniel Sturridge blast his penalty over Tim Howard‘s goal during Liverpool‘s 4-0 dismantling of Merseyside rivals Everton, it got me thinking; how does a player that is paid millions not hit the target from a mere 12 yards? Yes, anybody who has ever played the game has missed or had a penalty saved at some point in their life, and due to human error and solid goalkeeping no one can be perfect from the spot every time. But surely there is no excuse for hitting it over, right?
Before Howard conceded the penalty after a wild slide tackle on Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling in the box, Sturridge was on a hat-trick, having scored two superb goals in two minutes towards the end of the first half. It isn’t every day that a striker has the chance to score three goals in a Merseyside derby, and captain Steven Gerrard, who usually takes Liverpool’s penalties, gave the honors to make it five nil for the first time since 1982 to Sturridge.
Unfortunately, the England international couldn’t pay Gerrard back for his goodwill and just about sent the ball into orbit, much to the relief of American goalkeeper Howard. There seems to be a growing trend during the last few weeks of Premier League and cup action of players failing to hit the target from the penalty spot, and it is maddening to watch as a fan.
During Manchester United‘s second leg loss to Sunderland in the Capital One Cup semifinal, Sunderland’s Craig Gardner and Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones all sent their attempts sailing over the woodwork. A week earlier during Premier League action, Crystal Palace‘s Jason Puncheon had a horrendous miss against Tottenham, leading British newspaper the Daily Mail to ask its readers if it was one of the worst misses in recent memory.
As far as I see it, there are two ways to take a penalty: powerful and accurate or trickery. Legends like Frank Lampard and Francesco Totti usually go with power, and the pair regularly hammer the ball with all their might straight down the middle. On the other hand, Italian internationals Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli have more unorthodox methods to their strikes. Just ask Joe Hart, who was left speechless after Pirlo produced a wonderful “panenka,” lightly chipping the ball right down the middle during Italy’s Euro 2012 quarterfinal shootout win against England.
Balotelli, who has scored 27 out of 29 penalties in his short career so far, utilizes the stutter step, taking a slow run up and waiting for the keeper to commit before simply passing it into the unguarded side. Every player has their own style on how to take a penalty, but by far the most effective way is to pick a corner and hit it low and hard into the side netting, an art that players like Cristiano Ronaldo have perfected.
Although smashing the ball into the upper corner is surely the most satisfying option, it is a high risk, high reward type of situation, and statistics show it doesn’t always work out. According to data collected by Prozone Sports from penalty shootouts at every World Cup and European Championships since 1998, shooting at the bottom of the goal is successful 48.2 percent of the time, while in contrast, shooting toward the top of the goal is only successful 29.4 percent of the time.
Think John Terry‘s slipping miscue during the 2008 Champions League final against Manchester United or Sergio Ramos blasting into row Z in the 2012 Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich. And who could forget David Beckham‘s infamous miss against Turkey in England’s Euro 2004 qualifier. But hopefully this is all common sense.
I guess what I am trying to say here is when taking a penalty it’s accuracy over power, because frankly, it is embarrassing to watch a professional athlete lose their composure from 12 yards. Players at the top level should know how to take a proper penalty, and there is nowhere to hide on the field when players take the driver out and whack it over the goal. It is agreed upon by many that penalties are the scourge of the game, but Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc summed it up best when he stated,”penalties are awful, unfair, but what else is there?”