Columnist

Pat Nevin: The art of the perfect penalty

With Willian making Chelsea history from the penalty spot since the restart and following in the boot prints of some other excellent executers from 12 yards, columnist and former Blue Pat Nevin writes about the skill involved…


It’s all happening so quickly now it is hard to know which day it is on Planet Football.
Preparation and recovery are blurred into the same thing and the same day right now, but it is the same for all the players at all the clubs in the Premier League.

Crystal Palace will doubtless be another tough nut to crack but at least there is the depth of our squad and the quality available to Frank Lampard, which must be a great relief right at this moment. In comparison to the likes of Roy Hodgson, who needs to go to the same well time and time again even when he knows it is almost dry, we have a multitude of options. This is a huge advantage to us in this game. The former England manager has however done a wonderful job at Palace and as ever their defensive organisation will be second to none, no matter who he sends out down at Selhurst Park.

The job done on Watford will lead Frank to consider naming something close to an unchanged side, but he must guard against the staleness that can come from tiredness, particularly in these strange times. He always makes a point of partially making his team selections depending on who has trained well, but that is much harder to do just now. Training can’t be done at anywhere near the same intensity for the same length of time as it would be done in a normal week in a normal season.
 

The personnel decisions so far have, however, been very good post lockdown and one of the biggest has been to decide who is the designated penalty kick taker. With Jorginho not in the starting line up there would have been no lack of players willing to take the responsibility. Ross Barkley would love to have had a go and doubtless Olivier Giroud wouldn’t take much persuading to add to his goals tally. Would the young bucks such as Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Reece James turn their noses up at a chance from 12 yards? I doubt it.

None have had a look-in so far as Willian has stepped straight into Jorginho’s boots and looked imperious. There is a particular type of pressure involved in taking penalty kicks and it is only accentuated when you get a whole load of them close together. Willian has however been in the spot light three times in three consecutive league games and has made it look like a kickabout in the back garden with the kids instead of a pressurised Premier League penalty.

Read: Willian the first Chelsea player to score penalty in three consecutive league games

The real joy however has been his technique. I am not suggesting I was expecting limited technique from our Brazilian winger but be fair, he is following two of the best technical penalty kick takers in world football. Eden Hazard had perfected that ‘wait and see’ game of chicken with the goalkeepers to a level that had become something close to cruelty towards the stoppers. They tried and tried and tried to wait until Eden kicked the ball, but they couldn’t help themselves. The moment they moved the Belgian magician just clipped it effortlessly the other way. Genius.
 

If anything, when Jorginho took his place as the spot-kick specialist, he was arguably even better than Eden. So far in his career he has missed only one penalty in regular game time and he knocked the rebound from that one in anyway. More important is the brilliance, innovation and effectiveness of his technique. The little hop before he takes it mesmerises keepers like no other method I have ever come across. The imagination to come up with this is incredible and the bravery needed to keep doing it just as impressive, but if it works why change it. The goalies know exactly what he is going to do, but it is close to unstoppable because they feel they have to move and that is fatal for their chances of saving it.

So not much to follow then for Willian! Well it is fairly early days but his three recent efforts have been reminiscent of the previous two experts in one important way, he seems to be waiting to see which way the keeper is going to go before he chooses a corner. This sounds easy. It is nothing of the sort. Message to the editor, there is no need to show my penalty v Man City again here is there? I mean I did score a few pens for Chelsea and even one for Scotland, but they never seem to get shown!

I digress…as usual. Willian hasn’t digressed, he does however have a little hesitation on the last step which tempts the keeper. His run up is quicker than those that Jorginho and Hazard prefer, but the idea is the same. A slight delay at the final second, wait and see, and then put it the other way.
 

Against Watford’s Ben Foster he put it right as the keeper went left. Against Fabianski at West Ham and Man City’s Ederson at the Bridge, he went the other way. They know he doesn’t have a preferred side, so they know they should wait. The problem is, if they wait until he hits it, then it is too late to get across, the ball is beyond them in a second.

It will not always work, even the penalty prince that is Crystal Palaces’ Luka Milivojevic only scores 9/10, a superb ratio right enough, but nobody is perfect. With the Serbian getting his fair share of opportunities, mostly because Wilfried Zaha is so brilliant in the box, not unlike our own Christian Pulisic. Would it surprise any of us if a penalty was awarded tonight? I wouldn’t want to be the keeper either way because they are struggling to outwit the new breed of penalty kings. Right now, I would settle for a 1-0 win, from the spot or not.


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