It went in at the second attempt and it counted, but Saúl Ñíguez’s penalty against Leganés was far from convincing. The Spaniard came on for Antoine Griezmann at half time of Saturday’s match, and he was the one who stepped up after Ángel Correa went down in the area. In the absence of Atlétco Madrid’s first-choice spot kick executioner, there wasn’t exactly an abundance of alternative candidates — and this is slightly worrying in the build-up to a match that may well go to a penalty shootout.
Even if los colchoneros don’t suffer their own “one night in Turin,” there’s a chance they could be involved in a shootout down the line, so let’s take a look at the names that might be top five in Diego Simeone’s notebook.
Griezmann, of course, would be the leading penalty taker. He has missed in a big moment before, doing so during the 2016 Champions League final, but his performance from 12 yards has massively improved in recent times. The No.7 hasn’t missed a penalty in any match he has played in the past two years. His last miss came in Feb. 2017 and since then he has scored 14 in a row for club and country, even holding his nerve in a World Cup final.
After the Frenchman, there are four players with 100 percent records from the spot but their sample sizes are admittedly low. Stefan Savić has scored one from one, Koke has one from one, Vitolo has three from three and Álvaro Morata has five from five. But Koke and Morata have had high-profile shootout misses — in the World Cup against Russia and in the Champions League against Bayer Leverkusen in the former’s case, and in his Chelsea debut in the Community Shield in the latter’s case.
Then there are of Nikola Kalinić and Diego Costa, two strikers who have missed some penalties but who, like Griezmann, have large sample sizes. Kalinić’s rate is an impressive 87 percent, with 20 netted out of 23, but there’s a question mark as to whether or not he’d even be on the field and able to take one. Costa, who is suspended for the Juventus second leg but who may have to take one later on down the line, actually hasn’t beaten a goalkeeper from the spot since 2015 and his overall record is 74 percent, with 14 scored from 19.
Thomas Partey, also suspended for this game, has a record of zero from one, while Correa has the same record, so it’d be hard to feel extra confident about those two. Saúl has missed one of two in actual matches, but scored in the PSV Eindhoven and Real Madrid contests of 2015/16.
Then, after those three, there are no other players to have taken a penalty during a match. José María Giménez and Juanfran both took and scored a penalty in the infamous PSV shootout, although the right-back of course went on to strike the post in the UCL final in Milan.
So what would be my spot kick order for Tuesday’s Juventus match, if it came down to it? Well, I’d go Griezmann, Vitolo, Kalinić, Morata, Saúl.
I’m very much of the mindset that you send your best takers out first and don’t leave them for the glory fifth kick, as certain first-choice takers have tended to do in the past. I know Saúl missed at the weekend, but I do think he is one of the best options and I don’t think the midfielder is the kind of player to be fazed by what has gone before. As for a sixth taker, I’d go for Savić if it came to it and if he was on the pitch. One out of one is not a strong enough sample size to put him earlier, but the fact that penalty with Montenegro was so perfectly into the bottom corner and scored as recently as September should make him more confident than the likes of Koke and Juanfran. Confidence is especially key for the sixth taker, the first of those hoping not to be called upon.
So there you have it, my thoughts on a potential penalty shootout order based on some numbers and some gut instinct. But hopefully it doesn’t come to that, eh?