Manchester City fans have been spoilt when it came to penalties, due to the excellence of Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli.
When one of those two players was in the team, a spot-kick was as good as a goal – Toure tucked away all 15 penalties he took for the Blues, and Balotelli also bagged eight from eight – and when Joe Hart finally saved one in training, after dozens of attempts, the England keeper did a lap of honour, shouting with delight!
The contrast to today’s squad could not have been greater, and City ’s penalty woes are proving enough of a problem that Pep Guardiola has decided to act.
In the past, he has simply allowed his players to decide who takes them, a curiously liberal approach from a manager to whom detail is normally everything, although it is accepted that Sergio Aguero takes them if he is on the field, and Gabriel Jesus if he is not.
Sheffield United keeper Dean Henderson’s save from Gabriel Jesus at Bramall Lane on Tuesday was aided by a dozy assistant ref who failed to spot he was a yard off his line, and it ultimately meant nothing as City won the game anyway.
But with some big games coming up, and the memory of the damage done by Sergio Aguero’s miss last season at White Hart Lane still fresh in the memory, it is a subject that needs tackling.
Pep Guardiola said after the game he would “reflect” on the matter.
He commented that he would like Ederson to take them, because of his unerring strike of a ball and ice-cool demeanour.
Ederson also fancies them – his hero Rogerio Ceni used to take penalties and free-kicks around the box and once scored 21 goals in a season!
Guardiola’s leaning towards Ederson, however, is likely to be tempered by thoughts of the consequences of a saved penalty, or one against the woodwork followed by a quick counter-attack.
So as Guardiola ponders what to do, we looked at the runners – City players who have taken penalties in the past, and how they have fared.
There are players in the squad who are candidates despite never having taken a spot-kick in normal play – Rodri is a lovely clean striker of a football, Bernardo Silva likewise.
But here, ranked in order from worst to best, are City’s penalty takers:
8. Gabriel Jesus – the strange thing is that Jesus is still being entrusted with penalties, despite having the worst record in the squad. He has converted just four of his ten spot-kicks for club and country and missed his last three. He has persisted with a stop-start run-up and curious lobbed shot, which puts the ball at a saveable height. Scored – 4; missed – 6; success rate 40%
7. Raheem Sterling – his much-improved finishing in open play, and a fine winning finish in the shoot-out in the Carabao Cup final last season gave him the confidence to take one at Wolves last month. He saw Rui Patricio save his kick twice, including a VAR-ordered re-take, and he knocked in the rebound to lessen the impact. Scored – 1; missed – 1; success 50%
6. Riyad Mahrez – his only penalty since coming to City saw him sky the ball high over the bar last season to deny City their first win at Liverpool for 15 years. He was allowed to take that despite having a mish-mash record from the spot. Scored – 9; missed – 6; success 60%
5. Fernandinho – many fans’ favourite to take penalties, with his calm, measured approach and sweet strike. But he has never taken one for City, seemingly put off the idea by missing his last two for Shakhtar Donetsk, for who he has an ordinary record. Scored – 11; missed – 6; success 65%
4. Kevin De Bruyne – another star whose absence as a candidate mystifies many, as a brilliant striker of a ball. But his only City penalty was a poor one, against an inspired Everton keeper Marten Stekelenburg, who also saved from Sergio Aguero in the same game, Has scored two from two for Belgium! Scored – 2; missed – 1; success 66%
3. David Silva – another one who has 100 per cent for his country, and missed his only penalty for City, against Southampton in 2012. The fact he is leaving in the summer makes it pointless to give him another go. Scored – 2; missed – 1; success 66%
2. Sergio Aguero – still the go-to man, when on the pitch, despite some high profile misses. His success rate is just above the average of 75 per cent, and he has three hits from three this season. Scored – 46; missed – 12; success 79%
1. Ilkay Gundogan – the nearest thing to Yaya or Balotelli on the books! Has never missed from the spot in a normal game and his credentials include a nerveless success for Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich in a Champions League final. His only City penalty also went in, against Leicester this season. Scored – 8; missed – 0; success 100%.