Time to sub GKs for a shoot-out!

Exploring the numbers behind which Euro teams need to switch GKs

As the Euro 2020 knock-out matches approach, the prospect of a penalty shoot-out is never far away. Historically, the Euros has provided plenty of penalty drama (Panenka 76, Van Basten 92, Southgate 96, Holland 2000, Postiga 2004, Pirlo 2012, Zaza 2016) and the chances of a shoot-out in the quarter-final are as high as 37 per cent.

Regular readers will know that I advocate purposeful practise throughout the build-up to the tournament (not just starting now) and that coaches like Gareth Southgate, who believe that penalties are a trainable skill that can be improved, stand a better chance in a shoot-out.

One thing I am hoping to see this tournament, though, is more proactivity from coaches. We saw in the recent Europa League final that both coaches subbed on players (Juan Mata, Alex Telles, and Dani Raba) specifically to take a penalty in the shoot-out. They all scored. Much was made of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision not to substitute his goalkeeper, David de Gea, who had not saved any of his last 25 penalties, in favour of Dean Henderson, whose saving record was 8/17.

Photo: Getty Images

Football is a squad game and at this level, the smallest improvement can be decisive. My advice for coaches preparing for shoot-outs in this tournament is: “Be Brave. Use your full squad. Get the best players you can on the pitch for the shoot-out. And if that means bringing on a substitute goalkeeper, do it!”

We have seen some examples of this working a treat: in the 2004 African Champions League – in the semi-finals and the final - Felix Omordi, coach of Nigerian side Enyimba, subbed off Vincent Enyeama and brought on Dele Aiyenugba for the shoot-out. It worked against Esperance in the semi and in the final against another Tunisian side, Etoile de Sahel, when Aiyenugba saved two penalties to help Enyimba win the shoot-out 5-3.

Ciaran Kelly was even more successful for Sligo Rovers, coming off the bench to save four penalties out of four in the 2010 Irish Cup final against Shamrock Rovers (he saved another two a year later in the Cup final against Shelbourne). This is fantastic!

Anyone who has read the fantastic book The Miracle of Castel di Sangro might also remember the Miracle that inspired the book’s name: the decision to bring on substitute goalkeeper Pietro Spinosa, who had not played all season, for the shoot-out in the promotion play-off against Ascoli. Spinosa stopped two penalties, Castel di Sangro won the shoot-out 6-5, and made it to Serie B for the first time.

Then there’s the 2014 World Cup, when, with one minute left to play, Holland coach Louis van Gaal took off Jasper Cillessen and brought on Tim Krul in the quarter-final against Costa Rica, specifically for the shoot-out. Krul said:

“When I started my warm-up the whole Costa Rican bench was confused about what was going on. Their manager’s face when he saw me was priceless. He was looking over to see what our manager was doing.”

While Cillessen had not saved any of his previous 16 penalties, Krul had saved two of his previous 20. Which meant that third-choice Michel Vorm, with three saves from 11 penalties, was in fact the team’s penalty specialist. But that was not the point. Krul’s presence had planted a seed of doubt in the Costa Rican minds. They were left thinking: “This guy must be good if he’s coming on just to save penalties.”

Krul was brash and aggressive, taking any possible advantage he could to destabilise the Costa Ricans. He is also left-handed, and perhaps that came into play given that three kickers were left-footed. Before every kick, he walked up to every kicker as they were spotting the ball and spoke to them. To some he said, “Vamos!”, to others he told them where they were going to shoot. As Krul recalled:

“I don’t think I did anything wrong. I didn’t shout in an aggressive manner. I did nothing crazy, I told them I knew the way they were going with their penalties because I had analysed it. I was trying to get in their heads and it worked. It is a way of trying to psyche them out. They were under massive pressure. I was under massive pressure. So I did everything in my power. [Van Gaal’s decision] definitely had an impact. It was a fantastic move.”

Holland had scored their first two penalties when Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz stepped up. He struck his penalty left-footed to his natural side and Krul, who had walked over to the right of the goal while Ruiz was approaching the spot, saved it. “I have no problem with Krul’s actions,” said Ruiz. Michael Umana, fifth up, had scored Costa Rica’s winning penalty against Greece in the previous round; this time, though, he was kicking to avoid defeat, and his effort was saved, again to Krul’s natural side. Holland won their first World Cup shoot-out – and ‘won’ is the key word. This was one of those rare shoot-outs where the focus was not on Ruiz and Umana. They had not lost it for their team, but Van Gaal, and Krul, had won it. Not since Panenka in 1976 has an international tournament shoot-out focused so much on the ‘winning move’ rather than the losing one.

So, will we see another ‘winning move’ this month? I asked my friends at Opta to provide me with some penalty-saving numbers for Euro goalkeepers. I was interested in which nations have the biggest discrepancy in penalty-saving records between their goalkeepers. (Please note these figures only refer to penalties in league matches in the Big 5 leagues.)

Here are some teams who might want to consider making a change if their knock-out matches start to look tense. I am aware that these numbers are just one part of the decision for coaches to make. Personality, politics and squad harmony also play a big part!

France has the biggest difference in penalty records between its goalkeepers, with Mike Maignan a good example of my theory that a player who saves a penalty on his debut is more likely to be seen as a penalty specialist, and therefore become one. Maignan is a special case: he saved a penalty with his first touch in Ligue 1, back in 2015. He came on after Vincent Enyeama was sent off against Rennes, and kept out Paul-Georges Ntep’s spot-kick. One week later, Maignan saved another penalty, from Reims’s David N’Gog.

Mignolet has saved 3/7 for Club Brugge this season while Real Madrid goalkeeper Courtois is 1/7. Perhaps something for Roberto Martinez to consider?

Rui Silva has kept out 5/12 in all competitions for Granada this season, including efforts from Saul Niguez (Atletico), Paco Alcacer (Villarreal) and Raul Garcia (Athletic Club).

Unai Simon, the current number one, saved two penalties (from Sergio Canales and Juanmi) in Athletic Club’s 4-1 Copa del Rey shoot-out win over Real Betis in April. Kepa Arrizabalaga, not in the squad, has a league saving record of 3/8 at 38pc. These numbers actually flatter David de Gea as, including shoot-outs (at 2018 World Cup vs Russia and 2021 Europa League final) his current run is 0/40.  

Sommer has already excelled for Switzerland and it was surprising (to me, anyway) that his league penalty-saving record is among the worst of all the number ones at the tournament. The * is because Mvogo’s record is for PSV, and therefore came outside the Opta remit.

Collectively, these figures are among the lowest of any team at the tournament, but there are a few factors to consider. Firstly, the withdrawal of Dean Henderson through injury is a blow, given that his penalty record (in all competitions) is an impressive 8/17 at 47pc. That said, Pickford would probably keep his place given that he has won his last TWO shoot-outs in goal for England – against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup, and Switzerland in the 2019 Nations League – when he scored a penalty too.

I should also mention Italy, if only because they subbed on Salvatore Sirigu for Gianluigi Donnarumma late on in the Wales game. I wouldn’t expect a repeat of that: Donnarumma’s saving record is 8/32 at 25pc, compared to Sirigu’s 11/59 at 19pc.

PEN PALS:

  • What’s going on with the penalties at Euro 2020? We’ve only seen four scored from the first nine spot-kicks, and a few early patterns have emerged. Of the five misses, four were taken by left-footers and three were taken using the GK-Dependent strategy, which is a much harder skill to perfect, especially for non-regular takers. Spain’s Gerard Moreno (12/12 for the season coming into the tournament) was the only regular taker to miss, which is why I was surprised that Gareth Bale (1/1) and Ezgjan Alioski (3/3) also chose that tactic. Don’t get side-tracked by their left-footedness; as the studies in this piece show, there is no significant difference in conversion rate, although more righties kick to their natural side and they are more likely than lefties to score kicking high.

  • Gerard Moreno’s miss for Spain against Poland was miss number four in a row for the Spanish national team, after Abel Ruiz (against Lithuania) and Sergio Ramos’s two misses against Switzerland. The last time a player in the current squad scored for Spain from the spot was Alvaro Morata in June 2019 (in a 3-0 win over Sweden in which Ramos also scored a penalty). Who will take the next one for the team?

  • Please share any penalty thoughts or further questions to me either by commenting below or at @benlyt.

If you enjoyed this post, please spread the word about Twelve Yards and share this with your network. Recent pieces include: why the Dutch national team fear penalties, the worst shoot-out everhow Villarreal beat Manchester United to win the Europa League final, who Chelsea should pick for a shoot-out in the Champions League final, the secret to Bruno Fernandes’s success from the spot, Maradona’s penalty legacy, how Neymar honed his technique after FIFA changed the rules, Pep Guardiola’s surprisingly impressive record in penalty shoot-outs, which players will be next to score penalties with both feet, the Chilean defender who hates penalties but keeps scoring, the Argentine penalty tradition sweeping across empty stadia in Europe, why Lionel Messi is average at penalties, how Robert Lewandowski became a penalty killer, who really invented the two-touch penalty (and Robert Pires relives his trauma), why it’s better to aim high than low, the great Ederson penalty debate, an interview with Antonin Panenka, how to define a true Panenka, how to end Antoine Griezmann’s run of five missed penalties in a row, penalty records in empty stadia, and Barcelona’s first shoot-out win in 23 years. Thank you!

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