The two sides of Pep and penalties

City pens stink in open play, but are 100 per cent in shoot-outs

As Manchester City prepare for a crucial Champions League knockout tie this week, I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is that Pep Guardiola-coached teams have been burned in the past by missed open-play penalties in big European ties. The good news is that Guardiola has a surprisingly (to me, anyway) good record in penalty shoot-outs, winning eight out of ten so far – and five out of five with Manchester City.

Photo: Getty Images

Since Guardiola last reached a Champions League final, back in 2011, his teams missed vital open-play penalties in three European ties:  

2012, Champions League semi-final: Lionel Messi hits the crossbar vs Chelsea and Barcelona go on to lose

2016, Champions League semi-final: Thomas Muller misses vs Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich go on to lose

2019, Champions League quarter-final: Sergio Aguero misses vs Spurs (for crucial away goal) and Manchester City go on to lose

This season, City are 6/9 (67 per cent conversion) from the penalty spot, with Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling all missing once. Last season, it was 10/16 (63 per cent) with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus joining Sterling and Gundogan as penalty villains. Among it all, Guardiola never seemed too bothered by the issue – or not as bothered as he should be.

Sky’s excellent feature writer Adam Bate covered this issue in this piece last year, which also compared City’s poor conversion rate to other teams in the league.

Graphic: SkySports.com, from Feb 2020

However, there is another side to this story, and it’s Guardiola’s record in penalty shoot-outs. He didn’t face a single shoot-out in his four years at Barcelona – usually because Barca won every match without needing a shoot-out. Since then, his teams have faced ten shoot-outs, and won eight of them.

The highest point was probably his first, in his first competitive match as Bayern coach: the 2013 UEFA SuperCup tie against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. The match finished 0-0 and the story of the shoot-out is captured brilliantly in Marti Perarnau’s superb book Pep Confidential.

Guardiola gathered his new players around and, smiling, said:

"Lads, I don't know how to take penalties myself. I've never taken one in my life. But here's the best penalty taker in the whole world. [He points to his assistant Manel Estiarte.] I'm talking about Manel. He was the best water polo player in the world. He took penalties better than anyone. Hundreds of them. Water polo is like football. Only four out of every five penalty kicks hit the target, but Manel put them all away! He is the world expert on penalties. I've learned two things from Manel and his penalties, so listen up. These are the only two things you need to do now. Firstly, make up your mind immediately as to where you're going to put the ball and stick with that decision. I'll say it again. Decide now, and don't change your mind no matter what happens. Secondly, keep telling yourselves that you're going to score. Repeat it a thousand times and don't stop until after you've taken the penalty. Don't worry and don't change your minds."

Then, he adds:

"Lads, there's no list. You can choose whether or not to take one. You choose. You're all going to score anyway, so you decide who's taking them. Who's up for it?"

Perarnau takes up the story: ‘Alaba is the first to step forward, Kroos lifts his left hand next, followed quickly by Lahm. Next, Ribéry adds his name to the list... It's Shaqiri's turn after that… The players have come up with the list themselves, but what about the order they'll take them in?’ Says Guardiola:

"You sort that out. Take them in any order you want. Whatever you're comfortable with. It doesn't matter anyway, because they're all going in. Just one last thing. Don't forget. You've decided where you're putting the ball. Go and do it. And from now until you shoot keep telling yourself, 'It's going in'. With every step you take, say it, 'goal, goal, goal...'"

They take the penalties in the same order they volunteered. They all score. Manuel Neuer saves Chelsea’s fifth penalty, taken by Romelu Lukaku, which ends up being his last kick in a Chelsea shirt. And so, Guardiola wins his first trophy with Bayern. Here’s the shoot-out in full:

And here is the full list of Guardiola’s penalty shoot-out record:

2013, UEFA Super Cup: Bayern beat Chelsea 5-4

2014, German Cup quarter-final: Bayern beat Leverkusen 5-3

2014, German Cup semi-final: Dortmund beat Bayern 2-0 (this was a bad one, as Lahm, Alonso, Gotze and Neuer all missed their penalties)

2015, German Super Cup: Wolfsburg beat Bayern 5-4 (Nicklas Bendtner with the winning pen)

2016, German Cup final: Bayern beat Dortmund 4-3 (Guardiola’s last Bayern game)

2017, League Cup fourth round: Manchester City beat Wolves 4-1

2017, League Cup quarter-final: Manchester City beat Leicester 4-3

2018, League Cup quarter-final: Manchester City beat Leicester 3-1

2019, League Cup final: Manchester City beat Chelsea 4-3

2019, Community Shield: Manchester City beat Liverpool 5-4

I wonder if Guardiola still allows the players to volunteer for penalties? I disapprove of that, but it might mean us seeing Ederson at last (although he would hopefully do better than Neuer in 2014, who hit the crossbar). I also noticed Oleksandr Zinchenko has scored in two of City’s recent shoot-out wins and I would expect to see him stepping up if needed.

I still believe Pep has a blind-spot when it comes to penalties in open-play. But when it comes to shoot-outs, his players come through for him. It will be fascinating to see his approach if any of the big games City have coming up go to a shoot-out. Which five City players would you want to see stepping up for penalties?

PEN PALS:

  • Dusan Tadic had converted 11/11 penalties this season… until he hit this one down the middle against Roma’s Pau Lopez in the Europa League quarter-final. It would have put Ajax 2-0 up, and instead they lost 2-1, so it was a costly miss. Tadic was criticised for taking a poor penalty – but it only looks bad because the goalkeeper makes the right (and rare) decision to stay.  

  • Shout out to Burnley Women GK Lauren Bracewell, who made three penalty saves for her team in their FA Cup shoot-out win over Sunderland. Burnley won the shoot-out 3-1 and face Manchester United in the next round.

Photo: Burnleyfcwomen.com

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