Ronaldo vs Fernandes: Solskjaer clarifies Man Utd penalty hierarchy
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has revealed he’s considering sharing Manchester United’s penalty-taking duties between Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes this season.
Fernandes has been United’s primary spot-kick taker since arriving from Sporting CP in January 2020 and has missed just one of his 14 attempts during that time.
But penalties have famously been a valuable source of goals for Ronaldo, too, with no better evidence for that than the 36-year-old netting three of his five strikes at this summer’s European Championships from 12 yards.
Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho in the Old Trafford dugout in December 2018, United have won 32 penalties in the Premier League — at least nine more than any other team. The pace of summer arrival Jadon Sancho, alongside the existing speed and trickery of the likes of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial, means this trend is likely to continue, with the Red Devils incredibly dangerous inside the opposition box.
So, just who will be the No.1 choice from 12 yards between these two Portuguese penalty experts? Speaking ahead of United’s Premier League clash with Newcastle on Saturday, Solskjaer revealed he trusts both players “with his life” to stick penalties away.
“I knew that question was going to come,” Solskjaer said. “And, of course, I’ve had a chat with the two of them. We’ve got two players there that I’d trust with my life to put a penalty away and that’s a great position to be in.
“I’ve got Cristiano, Bruno, Marcus [Rashford], I’ve got players I trust to score every time they step up to take a penalty. I’ve had this conversation and they know my position on it. They know that I decide who is going to shoot the penalty if we get one.
“That’s not going to cause an issue. We’re here to win together. It’s not about my numbers or your numbers. It’s about us as a team and the decision is going to be mine.”
Ronaldo and Fernandes have both scored 23 penalties each in league play since the start of the 2018/19 season. But the latter comes out on top when it comes to conversion rate.
During that time, Fernandes has missed just one spot-kick, with Newcastle’s Karl Darlow denying him at St James’ Park during a 4-1 win for the Red Devils in November. Such was the shock at the 27-year-old not hitting the net, his own father contacted him that night to mock him.
“The day after the Newcastle game, my dad sent me a message – and he never sends me a message, he always calls me the day after the game, always,” Fernandes told the UTD podcast.
“And this message says, ‘Congratulations on your goal, but from tomorrow I will start to explain to you how to take penalties!’
“I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve missed one penalty in 11 and he’s talking to me about this’, because he never scored a penalty in all the years he was playing football!
“But this kind of situation helps you improve because all the time you know you have people behind you who will always ask more and demand more from you.”
While Ronaldo is by no means a bad penalty-taker, he has missed a fair few more than his compatriot. Since the start of the 2018/19 campaign, despite finding the net 23 times from the spot, he’s either missed the target or been denied four times. That still constitutes an 85% conversion rate, but it pales in comparison to Fernandes’ 96%.
But perhaps there is a compromise to be had.
“I really like free-kicks,” Fernandes said recently. “For me personally, free-kicks are something I practice and I want to get the reward of scoring. I prefer free-kicks over penalties.”