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Tuesday 03 April 2012

On the spot: Keepers shine in penalty battle

Dean Kiely on why Premier League keepers are having a vintage season of spot-kick saves

Swansea's Michel Vorm is known as the Penalty Killer for his skill at stopping spot kicks

Penalty taking sounds simple doesn’t it? No defenders, just a goalkeeper to beat, with a stationary ball, and from only 12 yards away.

Thing is, it is not as easy as it looks, and the statistics are there in black and white to show that in the battle of the spot kicks, the penalty takers are not having it their own way.

More than a quarter of the penalties taken the Barclays Premier League so far this season have been saved, compared to the average of 17% during the past 11 campaigns.

This season, penalty takers are converting 69% of spot kicks and since 2000/01, only the 2001/02 season has a lower conversion rate. The average conversion rate over the last 11 completed campaigns is 77%.

The high-profile penalty saves this season have been numerous: Ali Al-Habsi for Wigan against Liverpool's Charlie Adam, Swansea's Michel Vorm against Fulham's Clint Dempsey, Manchester United's David de Gea against Arsenal's Robin van Persie and Newcastle's Tim Krul against Chelsea's Frank Lampard to name but a few.

So why are goalkeepers doing so well and what preparation work is giving them the edge? Former West Bromwich Albion and Charlton goalkeeper Dean Kiely, who is now goalkeeping coach at the Baggies, tells the secret of saving a penalty.


Goalkeepers have a whole host of statistics and video analysis at their disposal ahead of every match to give them the best possible chance of saving a penalty.

"The keepers that are in these situations do not mechanically go through the steps, it just happens"
- Dean Kiely

Each goalkeeper has a directory of who takes the kicks, how they take them and where they place the ball. This information has become increasingly valuable to the men between the sticks.

For example, West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper Ben Foster famously credited his crucial penalty save in the 2009 Carling Cup final when playing for Manchester United to watching Tottenham players taking spot kicks on his iPod.

Kiely explains: "With all the stats and analysis at your disposal you would be daft not to use it.

"We have footage of all the penalties that have previously taken by a team and what I tend to do is view it all and present it in a package to Ben.

"In the back of a laminated book that we take out with us is a goal with all the penalties dotted, who has taken them and where they have put them.

"It just builds up a picture. There are gifted players you are playing against every week in the Premier League. They can place the ball where they want but they will have a trend or a stock penalty that they will have when the pressure is on."


The proliferation of DVD analysis nowadays is a far cry from what goalkeepers used to rely on to help them keep out penalties.

"It has changed enormously, when I started playing you basically had your knowledge," said Kiely. "The penalty taker might be someone you faced earlier on the season or a former team-mate of yours.

"You might also get help from your team-mates, who might have played with the penalty taker. I can remember the days when one of your own players would stand on the 'D' behind the taker pointing to the left or right or whispering to me about where the taker puts his penalties.

"I'm not sure how scientific that was but you were still looking for an edge and if one of your team-mates thought they could give you that then more often than not you went with it."


Even with all the data to hand, Kiely believes that the one crucial skill required to earn a reputation of being a top penalty stopper is pure instinct.

"All things being equal, goalkeepers are not expected to save penalties"
- Dean Kiely

"The keepers that are in these situations do not mechanically go through the steps, it just happens," said Kiely. "That is what makes them top goalkeepers, the fact that they don't have to think too hard about what they are doing. They are on auto pilot, it’s naturally what they do.

"They probably couldn't describe every aspect of what they do but they have this knack and instinct of being mentally strong and very tough and diligently going through that process of what they have to do to keep that ball out.

"Anybody thinking about it too much probably thinks themselves out of saving it."


Despite goalkeepers improving their statistics this season, Kiely still maintains that they are on a hiding to nothing when it comes to trying to stop a shot from 12 yards out.

"All things being equal, goalkeepers are not expected to save penalties," he said. "I've never been told off by a manager or received grief off supporters for not saving a penalty but you always get adoration, praise and respect for saving one.

"Don't get me wrong, I never faced a penalty and thought it doesn’t matter if it goes in because there's no comeback.

"But in terms of your make up and trying to dress that situation to come out of it positively, you are taking the pressure off by telling yourself that there’s only something to be gained from this situation."


From staring out, to delaying tactics, to jumping up and down, goalkeepers have always used a variety of methods to gain the upper hand over the penalty taker in those crucial few seconds before the kick is taken.

"I like to look at penalty takers straight in the eyes and then I can tell what they are thinking"
- Michel Vorm

"I've seen people trying to look as big as they can in the goal, other people are totally still, sprung and ready to explode and go after the ball," said Kiely.

"There's many to do it and from a keeper's point of view it's about finding their way of how they want to do it.

"You are playing against top, top quality players, they shouldn't be put off but with thousands of people in the stadium and with a lot at stake in every game, these factors do come into it."


West Brom’s Ben Foster says watching a player's body shape as he approaches the ball and making yourself look big in the goal are all factors in the penalty process. However, the most important thing is to "leave it until the last second to make your move". "Don't dive too early because, while he’s running up, you don’t want to be moving in the direction you’re going to go because the better players will just roll it in the opposite corner," he told FourFourTwo.

Swansea stopper Michel Vorm: "The secret is in the eyes. I like to look at penalty takers straight in the eyes and then I can tell what they are thinking. Then I leave it [the decision as to which way to dive] as late as possible."


2011/12 (as of March 16th): 83 penalties - 57 scored, 22 saved, 4 missed
Saved: 26.5% Conversion rate: 69%

2010/11: 105 penalties - 81 scored, 14 saved, 10 missed
Saved: 13% Conversion rate: 77%

2009/10: 111 penalties - 86 scored, 23 saved, 2 missed
Saved: 21% Conversion rate: 77%

2008/09: 85 penalties - 67 scored, 13 saved, 5 missed
Saved: 15% Conversion rate: 79%

2007/08: 88 penalties - 68 scored, 16 saved, 4 missed
Saved: 18% Conversion rate: 77%

2006/07: 112 penalties – 87 scored, 20 saved, 5 missed
Saved: 18% Conversion rate:  78%

2005/06: 76 penalties - 57 scored, 15 saved, 4 missed
Saved: 20% Conversion rate: 75%

2004/05: 84 penalties - 66 scored, 14 saved, 4 missed
Saved: 17% Conversion rate: 79%

2003/04: 89 penalties - 69 scored, 18 saved, 2 missed
Saved: 20% Conversion rate: 78%

2002/03: 92 penalties - 75 scored, 14 saved, 3 missed
Saved: 15% Conversion rate:  82%

2001/02: 73 penalties - 48 scored, 14 saved, 11 missed
Saved: 19% Conversion rate:  66%

2000/01: 68 penalties - 54 scored, 9 saved, 5 missed
Saved: 13% Conversion rate: 79%

[Source: Press Association]

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Key Points

  • Goalkeepers have saved more than a quarter of all penalties so far this season
  • The likes of Michel Vorm, Tim Krul and Ali Al-Habsi have all made vital saves
  • West Brom coach Dean Kiely explains how stoppers prepare for spot kicks
Tags: Dean Kiely