One of Gareth Southgate’s greatest successes as England coach has been getting rid of England’s penalty complex at major tournaments.
Before Southgate was named coach, England was statistically the nation with the worst shootout record, with six out of seven defeats. Under Southgate, the team has a 100 per cent record shootout record, with victories from 12 yards against Colombia and Switzerland.
Even the prospect of a potential shootout against Germany is no longer something to be feared (honestly!). This is how he has done it.
Gareth Southgate has helped England get rid of their penalty complex at major tournaments
1. A shootout is not a lottery
Southgate has admitted that taking a penalty is a trainable skill that can be improved. This means that he has the whole squad practising penalties — and practising with purpose, so taking penalties after 120 minutes of training, walking from the centre circle to the spot, and adding a competitive element to it.
This is in stark contrast to previous England coaches: ‘You can never recreate on the training ground the circumstances of the shootout,’ said Glenn Hoddle in 1998. ‘When it comes to the pressure we are not good,’ said Sven Goran Eriksson in 2006. ‘You can’t reproduce the tired legs. You can’t reproduce the pressure,’ said Roy Hodgson in 2012.
Practising with purpose will not guarantee success, but it will certainly improve your chances, and so it proved: 28 years after England’s first penalty defeat, Southgate’s team beat Colombia and all it needed was a bit of practice.
England have claimed penalty shootout wins over Colombia and Switzerland under Southgate
2. Take your time
England players historically started their run-up faster than anyone when the referee blew his whistle to signify the penalty could be taken. In 2006, Jamie Carragher was so keen to get his penalty over with he did not even wait for the referee to blow (he scored but it had to be retaken and was saved).
Rushing at this moment is a sure sign of stress; just waiting for one extra second, to regulate breathing or reduce nerves, can have a huge impact on the outcome.
It was noticeable against Colombia and Switzerland that the England players had learned this lesson. In Manchester United’s Europa League final loss to Villarreal, Marcus Rashford waited more than seven seconds after the referee blew before starting his shootout run-up.
Marcus Rashford showed his penalty composure in Manchester United’s Europa League final loss
3. Pick your spot early
There are two strategies when taking penalties. Kicking Goalkeeper-Independent is when a player picks his spot and trusts in his execution regardless of whether the keeper goes the right way. Goalkeeper-Dependent involves waiting for the goalkeeper to make the first move, and then going the other way. It’s a harder technical skill to manage: of England’s recent shootouts, all except Ross Barkley shot Goalkeeper-Independent, with nine out of 10 scored.
In the case of Kieran Trippier and Harry Maguire, even when the keeper guesses right, they are unstoppable. England players should stick with the Goalkeeper-Independent strategy — and know ahead of time (like now), where they would shoot their penalty.
4. Kick first if you can
FIFA trialled the ABBA system of taking penalties like a tennis tie-break to counter a clear advantage benefiting the team who take the first kick. Studies have shown that the team taking the first kick in a shootout enjoy an advantage of up to 60-40: this is because there is extra pressure on the player who kicks second to avoid defeat.
In tournament football, the conversion rate to avoid defeat drops to 72 per cent, compared with 92 per cent conversion for those kicking to win the shootout. England kicked second against Colombia and first against Switzerland.
Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes made the surprising decision to kick second against Villarreal despite winning the coin toss to choose.
Bruno Fernandes chose to kick second for Manchester United despite winning the coin toss
5. Focus on the execution
Southgate has encouraged each member of the England team to ‘own the shootout’. By that he means focusing on the aspects that they alone can affect, and not worrying about things beyond their control.
Do not spend extra time worrying about where to put your penalty, as England players in the past have done. Do not waste emotional energy in the centre circle fearing your kick, or reacting with a display of emotion at how the opposition are performing with their penalties.
Just focus on your execution: your breathing as you make the walk; the precise spotting of the ball; getting your run-up exactly as you like it; deep breath before starting the approach.
Taking time to focus on the execution rather than the outcome has a better chance of success. See this as an opportunity, not something to be feared.
6 Don’t fear left-footers
Of the first five penalties that were missed at Euro 2020, four were taken by left-footers. Don’t be seduced by recent bias: there is no clear statistical proof that shows kicking with your left foot reduces (or increases) your chances of penalty success.
Jordan Pickford is the only left-footed player to have taken a penalty for England recently
In a study of over 4,000 open-play penalties analysed, left-footers and right-footers both scored exactly 78 per cent of the time (although right-footers are more likely to shoot to their natural side).
Jordan Pickford is the only left-footed player to have taken a penalty for England in recent years; his penalty, kicking as the fifth man against Switzerland, was impressive.
Ben Lyttleton is the author of Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty
Here’s your penalty crib sheet, Jordan
Just in case Tuesday’s last 16 game game between England and Germany at Wembley goes to penalties, we have analysed where Germany’s likely takers usually put their spot-kicks. Write it on your water bottle, Jordan Pickford!
All penalties for top-flight club and country, excluding shootouts.
Taken: 37 Scored: 30 (81%)
The Bayern Munich striker has missed four of his last 10 penalties but has not failed since 2016.
Most likely: Bottom right
Taken: 18 Scored: 14 (78%)
Werner missed his most recent penalty against Luton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Most likely: Bottom left
Thomas Muller has a very impressive penalty record with 30 scored out of 37
Taken: 10 Scored: 8 (80%)
Gundogan was the scorer of Germany’s last penalty. He also netted one in 2013 Champions League final.
Most likely: Bottom right
Taken: 7 Scored: 7 (100%)
Havertz has scored all seven of his senior penalties as well as six from six in youth football.
Most likely: Anywhere!
Taken: 3 Goals: 3 (100%)
The Real Madrid midfielder has taken and scored two of Germany’s last four penalties.
Most likely: Bottom right
Toni Kroos and Kai Havertz have impeccable records from the spot for club and country