Premier League penalty kings spot-on for World Cup

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Thursday 12 June 2014

Premier League penalty kings spot-on for World Cup

Ahead of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, Ben Lyttleton analyses the BPL's penalty-taking prowess

  • Yaya Toure's 'goalkeeper-dependent' technique reaped a 100% record last season

  • Eden Hazard watches Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny as he scores from 12 yards

  • Wilfried Bony also boasted a perfect penalty record for Swansea last season

The eyes of the world turn to Brazil today as the World Cup gets under way, where some of the best players on the planet will be hoping to do themselves justice on the greatest international stage. With so many pedigree players spread across the 32 teams – the 110 players from the Barclays Premier League is the highest number provided by any league – the outcome of this year's finals appears harder than ever to call, and if the matches are as tight as many suspect, the advent of the penalty shoot-out is likely to feature prominently in the knockout stage.

To that end Ben Lyttleton, author of 'Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty', has given his insight into the penalty-taking prowess of players from the Barclays Premier League, which he suggests is likely to stand them in good stead when the time for reckoning in Brazil comes…

Two of the last five finals in the FIFA World Cup have been decided by penalty shoot-outs and in England there exisits what national team manager Roy Hodgson has called "a negative obsession" with spot-kicks that has provided a nervous backdrop to the preparations for England's opening game against Italy on 14 June.

  83.91% The Barclays Premier League led the way from 12 yards last season with the best conversion rate of the top five leagues

I spoke to a player from every team to have beaten England on penalties as I set about finding solutions to their spot-kick problems. Other experts gave their opinions too: Antonin Panenka, whose chipped penalty down the middle of the goal carries his name, said it was all about speed in the run-up; Jose Luis Chilavert, the Paraguayan who pioneered a generation of goalscoring South American goalkeepers, wanted more of his counterparts to take penalties. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the one factor they all had in common: every one of them wanted to help end England's run of five consecutive shoot-out defeats. 

BPL penalty kings

But the answer to England's shoot-out woes could be on their doorstep all along, in the Barclays Premier League. The table below compares the penalty-conversion records of the top five European leagues for the 2013/14 season and shows that, with a conversion rate of 83.91%, the Barclays Premier League led the way from 12 yards.

Penalty conversion rate in Europe's top 5 leagues 2013/14
League Taken Scored Success rate
Barclays Premier League 87 73 83.91%
Serie A 128 101 78.91%
German Bundesliga 87 64 73.56%
Spanish Primera Liga 92 67 72.83%
French Ligue 1 115 80 69.57%

A further breakdown of penalties by nationality shows that English players are world leaders from the spot in club football. Free from the burden of the national team, where the shoot-out conversion rate is 66%, English players have scored from 81.95% of their spot-kicks for their clubs in the last five seasons*. The next-most successful are Argentinian players, while Germans, who have a 93% conversion rate in national-team shoot-outs, lag behind at 75% in league football.

Penalties by nationality in Europe's top 5 leagues 2013/14
Nationality Taken Scored Success rate
English 205 168 81.95%
Argentine  178 143 80.34%
Brazilian   159 123 77.36%
Italian   350 270 77.14%
German  124 93 75%
Spanish   303 225 74.26%
French   200 145 72.5%

* Sample size of over 50 penalties taken per nationality

Spot-on records

The Barclays Premier League will also be showcasing some of its finest penalty-taking talent in Brazil. Six of the 15 players to have taken four or more penalties in the league last season, and scored them all for their clubs, will be at the World Cup and of those three play in the Barclays Premier League: Yaya Toure, Eden Hazard and Wilfried Bony.

When taking penalties, Toure and Hazard use the "goalkeeper-dependent" strategy of waiting for the goalkeeper to move first before choosing where to place their kick. From a technical point of view, it is a more complicated strategy but over a long period of time, the numbers show that it is more successful.

Best penalty records 2013/14
Nationality Taken Scored Success rate
Antonio Candreva (Lazio)
6 6 100%
Yaya Toure (Man City)
6 6 100%
Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo)
6 6 100%
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
6 6 100%
Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina)
6 6 100%
Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
6 6 100%
Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli)
5 5 100%
Jorginho (Verona/Napoli) 5 5 100%
Max Kruse (Borussia Monchengladbach) 4 4 100%
Roberto Soldado (Tottenham Hotspur) 4 4 100%
Alberto Paloschi (Chievo) 4 4 100%
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) 4 4 100%
Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund) 4 4 100%
Wilfried Bony (Swansea City) 4 4 100%
Jefferson Farfan (Schalke) 4 4 100%

* Minimum four penalties taken

Much of the focus on this World Cup has centred around the conditions in Brazil, and the heat and humidity in cities like Manaus. This also has a bearing on penalty-kicks because fatigue can play a role in the shoot-out. Former England penalty-taker Gary Lineker suggests that English players' technical shortcomings leaves them chasing the ball more than opponents during the 120 minutes so they are more tired when the shoot-out comes.

  • Jamie Carragher is asked to retake his penalty against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup

  • Steven Gerrard scores the first of two successful spot-kicks against West Ham in April

  • Frank Lampard is among the top five penalty takers in Europe over the last five seasons

  • Wayne Rooney's 17 successful penalties for Man United also puts him in Europe's top 10

Fresh disadvantage

The numbers backed this up. The shoot-out conversion rate for players who had played between 91 and 120 minutes of action was 78%, while for those who played less than 30 minutes, it was up to 86.7%. The latter sample was a small one (only 15 players) made up of players, presumably spot-kick specialists, brought on in extra-time to take a penalty. There is another factor to consider here: if a player is too fresh, he may not have had time to get used to the pitch, the ball and the conditions.
That could have been the case with Jamie Carragher, who came onto the pitch in England’s 2006 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Portugal one minute before the final whistle blew. Carragher’s first act, therefore, was to take a penalty in the shoot-out; he scored it, but had not waited for the referee’s whistle. The referee made him retake his penalty.

The statistics from last season's Barclays Premier League bear out that freshness is not necessarily an advantage from the spot. Albeit from a small sample size, the table below shows that in the first 10 minutes of matches, only 20% of the five penalties awarded were scored. Compare to the last five minutes of the first half, 89% of the nine penalties, or indeed injury-time at the end of the second half, 100% of all eight penalties.

Time of penalty and success rate
Time of penalty Taken Scored
1-10 mins 5
41-45 mins 9
1-45 mins 34
45-50 mins 8
81-90 mins
90+ mins
46-90 mins 53 47
Total 59 73

Game-state dependency

One of my most significant findings was how the state of the shoot-out affected a player's chances of converting his penalty. The starting-point for this analysis was that the average penalty-conversion rate in a World Cup shoot-out is 71%, lower than the 78% conversion rate in domestic league football and far below last season's Barclays Premier League average of 83.9%.

The pressure of the World Cup can do strange things to even elite players. The figure of 71% drops further when a player is taking the penalty to keep his side in the shoot-out, as Roberto Baggio found to his detriment in the 1994 World Cup final. The different between kicking "to win" and kicking "not to lose" is enormous: in World Cup football, the rate of scoring "to win" is 93% and "not to lose", an incredible 44%.

In the Barclays Premier League there are no shoot-outs, but conversion rates do vary according to the state of the match. Last season in the Barclays Premier League, players looking to put their team in the lead from the spot converted 87%, 10 percentage points higher than players whose team were losing at the time, 77%. This was also reflected in the five-season analysis, with 79.6% of penalties in the Barclays Premier League converted to put a team ahead, and 75.7% when the team was losing.

Match score when penalties taken
2013/14 BPL penalties
When winning
When drawing
When losing 22 17 77%


Match state when penalties taken
BPL penalties over last five years
When winning 134 103 76.9%
When drawing 211 168 79.6%
When losing 144 109 75.7%

English accuracy

Some of the world's best penalty-takers will be out in Brazil and here at last, there is good news for England fans. Of the top 10 players to have taken the most penalties over the last five seasons three are English: Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney.

Top 10 penalty-takers from top five leagues
Player Nationality Taken Scored Success rate
Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal 39 36 92.31%
Zlatan Ibrahimovic Sweden 28 26 92.86%
Lionel Messi Argentina 27 25 92.59%
Antonio Di Natale Italy 31 23 74.19%
Frank Lampard England 29 23 79.31%
Sejad Salihovic Bosnia 26 23 88.46%
Francesco Totti Italy 25 20 80.00%
Edinson Cavani Uruguay 27 19 70.37%
Wayne Rooney England 22 17 77.27%
Steven Gerrard England 20 17 85.00%

England have the only World Cup squad with five players who took at least three or more penalties last season and given that the problems in the past have often been with non-regular penalty takers – Chris Waddle (1990), Gareth Southgate (1996), David Batty, Paul Ince (1998), Darius Vassell (2004), Jamie Carragher (2006), and Ashley Cole (2012) – this at least should be some source of comfort for those fearing another heartbreak from 12 yards.

'Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty' (Bantam Press) by Ben Lyttleton is out now and available to buy on Amazon on this link >>

You can follow Ben Lyttleton on Twitter on @benlyt


Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty (Bantam Press) by Ben Lyttleton is out now and available to buy on Amazon on this link >>

You can follow Ben Lyttleton on Twitter on @benlyt

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Key Points

  • Ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup we look at the accuracy of penalty takers from the BPL
  • Author of 'Twelve yards' Ben Lyttleton offers his insight into the art of penalty taking
  • Players from the Barclays Premier League had the highest penalty-conversion rate last season