It is arguable that Manchester City would have won Champions League already if they were excellent at taking penalties. Sergio Aguero missed a crucial penalty against Tottenham in 2019 that later cost the team a semi-final place in the competition. City could have beaten Ajax in the semis and met Liverpool in the final.
Sure, it is good to play well and score goals from open play. But sometimes situations arise when one odd goal from a set piece can make all the difference.
Being good with set pieces is one of the characteristics of top teams. So having many specialists in all departments gives a team an advantage when push comes to shove.
The Blues saw it first-hand last season when Real Madrid’s penalty saw them through to the final. So, being good at taking free kicks, and penalties in particular, remains very important to the success of any team.
But penalty kicks have been an Achilles heel for Manchester City, especially under Pep Guardiola. From Sergio Aguero, to Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and even Kevin De Bruyne. It’s been the same story. Riyad Mahrez has had his fair share of misses too, especially more recently.
It appears missing two back-to-back, that cost the team wins, was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The manager has now decided to make a change. Having admitted that his team faces a serious problem in the area, it remains to be seen who will become his main man for the job.
Of all the players who have been on penalty duties, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus were the worst takers. Sterling had a success rate of just 43 per cent as he scored only three of the seven he took. Jesus fared a bit better by converting only 50 per cent with five scored from 10 taken.
Both players were moved on in the summer as if to also improve in the area. So far, the Brazilian’s replacement, Erling Haaland has a 100 per cent success rate, scoring two in two kicks so far.
The only other member of the squad with a hundred per cent record is Rodri. But the Spaniard has taken just one in what was just an angry reaction to the alarming misses.
For now, it appears Haaland is the most trusted from the spot. But what happens when the Norwegian is not on the pitch as was the case on Tuesday night?
The manager must count on his captain to step up and lead, and Gundogan’s record has not been too bad. The German has scored four from six. Thankfully, De Bruyne has fared better.
With a 78 per cent success rate having scored seven out of nine, the Belgian can also help out when needed. He may even become the outright taker after Haaland based on his numbers.
Mahrez’s recent three misses out of four have made a change necessary. To find a long-term solution, the players need to dedicate more time to practicing spot kicks. And then let the best men from the spot win the right to handle the responsibility.
It’s a responsibility that can make the difference between success and failure at crucial points in important games.