Solving Griezmann’s penalty woes

How striker can end his run of five-in-a-row missed penalties

As a Dutchman, Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman will know all about penalty disasters, but last week was a new low even for him. Barcelona missed two penalties in open play (Miralem Pjanic and Ousmane Dembele) as they edge past Segunda B side Cornella in the Cup. Their record from the spot this season is seven scored from 12, a 58 per cent success rate; five different players have now missed penalties (Messi, Griezmann and Braithwaite are the other three).

I want to look at Barcelona’s penalty issues, and specifically the reason why one of their front-line strikers, Antoine Griezmann, didn’t take either of the penalties against Cornella.

Griezmann is in select company when it comes to penalties. He is one of only five players to score a penalty in a World Cup final (excluding shoot-outs), joining Johan Neeskens, Paul Brietner (both 1974), Andreas Brehme (1990) and Zinedine Zidane (2006). Griezmann scored three penalties for France in Russia 2018, and ended up converting his first seven spot-kicks for Les Bleus. Bravo, Antoine!

In recent years, though, Griezmann has found it tough going from the spot. Since scoring three penalties in the autumn of 2018  - one in France’s 2-1 win over Germany, against Manuel Neuer, and two in successive matches for Atletico Madrid – he has not scored a penalty since. Five penalties, five misses. Mon Dieu!

Photo: EFE

Oh Antoine, what has happened to you? Let’s have a look at the problem, and see if we can find a solution…

1. September 7, 2019 - hits crossbar against Albania

Griezmann opts for the GK-independent method, picking his spot regardless of the goalkeeper’s movement. He goes for power down the middle and the ball smashes the crossbar and bounces to safety. This is in the first half, France is 2-0 up and goes on to win 4-1. He laughs it off after the game, saying that he didn’t know why he missed the penalty. Maybe it's because my wife didn't watch the game,” he jokes. “Too bad, I'll have to work on it.” But did he?

2. September 10, 2019 – penalty saved against Andorra  

Three days later, Griezmann wins a penalty after being pulled down in the box, and he goes for a slightly shorter run-up. Off only two steps, he aims to his natural side (as a left-footer, that means to the goalkeeper’s left). Andorra goalkeeper Josep Gomes leaps forward and to the left, and pushes out the kick. France is 1-0 up at the time, and wins 3-0. Griezmann says after the game: “It is really annoying, I’ll just have to keep working.”

3. September 5, 2020 – over the crossbar against Sweden

One year later, it’s clear that Griezmann has not changed his routine at all. Despite his penalty famine, he sticks to his method and off a short run-up, goes for power and, crucially, height. I often tell players that they can kick the ball too high, but they can’t kick the ball too low – and this time, Griezmann’s kick sails over the crossbar, as goalkeeper Robin Olsen watches on. France is 1-0 up and this penalty is in injury-time, so for a third time, it does not affect the result.

After the game, France captain Hugo Lloris points out that Griezmann has scored his most important penalties in recent years (true for France, but not for Atletico Madrid, as we will see below). “Maybe he is lacking in confidence from the spot… but he will score his next penalties,” he said. Hmmm.

Coach Didier Deschamps also played down miss number three. “So long as he feels it and wants to take them, he will continue to take them,” he said. This turned out to be not true: in France’s next few matches, Olivier Giroud scored match-winning penalties (against Iceland and Moldova), with Griezmann still on the pitch.

“The problem is that he does not take them with his club so he does not train on this particular thing,” Deschamps added. He had a point there: all these misses occurred after he joined Barcelona, where his struggles with confidence and getting used to his new team’s tactics were explained nicely in this piece by B/R’s Richard Fitzpatrick.

4. November 7, 2020 – penalty saved against Real Betis 

With Barcelona 1-0 up, and Lionel Messi watching from the sidelines, Griezmann steps up against Claudio Bravo. He has clearly thought about things and there are a few changes to this penalty. One, he waits for a little longer after the referee’s whistle. Two, his run-up is a bit longer (but not much). Three, he is still GK-independent but tries to keep it low. He goes to his non-natural side and Bravo pushes it away. It’s Griezmann’s best penalty of this batch, and is a decent save.

5.January 13, 2021 – over the crossbar against Real Sociedad

Griezmann recently took the fourth penalty in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final against Real Sociedad, and it was the kick that would have won the shoot-out for Barcelona (which they won anyway); so the numbers were in his favour. Studies have shown that shooting to win the shoot-out improves conversion chances to 92 per cent, while shooting to avoid defeat can reduce conversion to 62 per cent. Nevertheless, Griezmann copied his Sweden penalty, and off a short run-up, laced the ball over the bar.  Full analysis of that shoot-out is here.

Penalty verdict:

Griezmann’s dramatic fall from penalty hero to zero might come as no surprise to Professor Geir Jordet, whose study on status anxiety, called When Superstars Flop, formed the basis of my Roberto Baggio chapter in Twelve Yards.

In short, once players have won major individual awards, their penalty records drop. High-status players ended up scoring 59 per cent of penalties, while future high-status players scored at 89 per cent. “They have more to lose and… are more likely to experience extra performance pressure,” Jordet told me. This, coupled with his issues at Barcelona, could explain Griezmann’s slump.

There is also a technical issue. When you miss a penalty, chances are you will change things up in the next penalty in an attempt to change the result. These five misses follow that pattern: power/sidefoot/power/sidefoot/power. But looking at back at previous Griezmann penalties could help him improve.

Lloris said he hadn’t missed any important penalties before but that’s not quite right. In the 2016 Champions League final, Griezmann took a second-half penalty for Atletico Madrid against Real Madrid. Atletico was 1-0 down at the time. Griezmann’s penalty smacked the crossbar (a copy of the Albania miss).

The game finished 1-1 and went to a shoot-out. Griezmann stepped up first. Off a much longer run-up, he side-footed it LOW to his non-natural side to score (so again, mixing it up). Two of his World Cup penalties were similar: against Argentina and Croatia, he scored low and to his non-natural side.

The best penalty he hit was in the World Cup group game against Australia. This one had a short run-up, and was hit GK-independent, natural side, with power, mid-height, into the side of the net. Even if the goalkeeper goes the right way, he doesn’t save it.

Griezmann clearly wants to stick with the GK-independent strategy. I would suggest he practises, with purpose, off a longer run-up and kicking low to his natural side. Over and over again, to the point that he is so comfortable when the moment comes, he will know exactly what to do. That will take out the worry about having to pick his spot under pressure.

“I don't understand how with the players we have, we can't score [penalties],” said Koeman after the double penalty miss against Cornella. “Maybe it’s fear, I don’t know. But you can’t miss two penalties as Barcelona, that’s not serious.”

Any more misses, and it may be that Griezmann will get the chance to end his dramatic penalty slump. At least we can hope he’ll know what to do then.

Pen pals

Thanks for the feedback on last week’s newsletter, which looked at penalty records in empty stadia (TLDR: players say they prefer to take penalties in front of fans but their penalty record improves without them). Before then, I broke down Barcelona’s shoot-out win over Real Sociedad.

Congrats to Oliver Baumann, Hoffenheim goalkeeper, who saved two penalties this week: in wins over Cologne (Anthony Modeste) and Hertha Berlin (Krzysztof Piatek). He has now saved FIVE penalties this season, and for some reason, he doesn't want to be called an ‘Elfmeterfkiller’, ‘penalty killer’. His advice for goalkeepers? “Wait as along as you can, then jump quickly.” More from him in a future edition.

Also thanks to Raheem Sterling, who followed up a recent penalty miss with a superb free-kick against Crystal Palace, and came up with this lovely reaction. Very droll!

Feel free to comment below or fire over any penalty thoughts or further questions to me at @benlyt.

If you enjoyed this post please help spread the word about Twelve Yards. And if you’re new to this community, you can see recent pieces on penalty records in empty stadia, and Barcelona’s first shoot-out win in 23 years.

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