It is one of the most heart-stopping moments in football: waiting for a penalty to be taken.
You can have all the ability in the world, hit rockets from outside the box and trivelas from obscene angles, but some players simply don’t have the minerals to do it from 12 yards when time stands still.
Whether it’s trying Panenkas in the 98th-minute (sorry to harp on about it Ademola Lookman, that one’s been covered extensively), fluffing your lines, or simple goalkeeping brilliance, never underestimate the difficulty of doing the business from the spot.
And that underrated talent has arguably taken on a greater significance this season as the rate in which penalties are awarded has increased quite a bit. Indeed, the frequency of penalties given in the Premier League alone has jumped from one every 4.13 games in 2019/20 to one every 1.90 games this season. Over double!
Something is afoot with penalties across all the top leagues.
The frequency has increased massively across all major leagues (apart from Serie A) and UCL.
Frequency has doubled in England and Germany BUT the % for handball is almost identical to last season in these leagues. pic.twitter.com/Ii7ZqRYIKs
— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) November 11, 2020
And that trend has largely remained consistent across the continent, save for Serie A, so a competent penalty-taker has arguably never been more important. However, the players below rarely run into any trouble from deadball scenarios.
With nerves of steel, laser-point precision and a poker face that would do well in a Las Vegas setting, here are the best penalty takers across Europe’s top five leagues right now, based on goals scored and conversion rate since the start of last season.
Europe’s perfect 10
Perhaps if you watched Spain’s Nations League draw with Switzerland last week you’d be forgiven for thinking that Sergio Ramos is not particularly clinical from the spot, with Yann Sommer producing two saves to deny the Real Madrid skipper.
The first was simply world class, with the Borussia Monchengladbach ‘keeper getting down low to deny a well-placed Ramos strike, while the second was more straightforward and rather comical on Ramos’ part, as he simply dinked it into his path.
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However, for Los Blancos he is an unwavering master from 12 yards, typified by his penalty in El Clasico last month. That took moxie, as our friends across the Atlantic would say. And he is joined on eight goals with a 100 per cent record since 2019/20 by three other players.
Santi Cazorla’s set-piece virtuosity is well-documented so it is no surprise to see him leading the pack for Villarreal, with all eight coming last season as he has since joined Xavi’s Al Sadd in Qatar, while Roma’s Jordan Veretout and Mikel Oyarzabal finish off the top four.
Further down Mohamed Salah has already scored three penalties this season, against Leeds, West Ham and Man City, while Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Raul Garcia also join the Egyptian with a flawless record on seven goals. Finally, Romelu Lukaku sits on a perfect six with Monaco forward Wissam Ben Yedder and Lucas Ocampos of Sevilla.
Most penalties scored since 2019/20
Since 2019/20 Ciro Immobile has been in devastating final third form, netting 39 Serie A goals, including 36 last season which helped him win the European Golden Shoe, the first Italian top-flight player to do so since Francesco Totti in 2006/07, as well as the Capocannoniere for top Serie A scorer.
Immobile is a true penalty-box assassin, with the Lazio striker scoring freely and abundantly in the Italian capital, but nearly 40% of his total output since the start of last season has come from the spot. Still, it takes some bottle to do it from 12 yards consistently and Immobile has only missed one of his 16 penalties in that time.
Second-placed Cristiano Ronaldo, yes – okay – get your ‘Penaldo’ jokes out of the way now and let’s get serious. The Portuguese is the superlative goalscorer and boasts an insatiable appetite to see his name on the scoresheet, so it’s no wonder the Old Lady entrust him with penalty-taking duties, and he has duly delivered since 2019/20.
Only Immobile has taken more penalties in Europe’s top five divisions since the start of last season than Ronaldo (16 to 15), and like the Lazio marksman, he too has only failed to breach the net once, giving him a pretty cushty conversion rate of 93.3%.
Hailed as the best defensive league in the world, Serie A defenders may want to revisit the catenaccio handbook as there seems to be an awful lot of penalties being conceded in southern Europe. Next on our list is perennial Premier League-linked forward Andrea Belotti.
We then move on to Jamie Vardy who quite incredibly leads the Golden Boot race in the Premier League this season having almost exclusively scored penalties, with five of his eight goals coming by virtue of 12 yards (he’s also missed one as well). And then we return to Serie A with Lecce’s Marco Mancosu also on nine.
Finally, the aforementioned quartet of Ramos, Cazorla, Veretout and Oyarzabal sit on a perfect eight, while Domenico Criscito joins them but has a slightly underwhelming conversion rate of just 80%, having missed two of his 10 penalties.