Insight

Spot test

Not since the 2016 final has a knockout game been decided by penalties in the Champions League. Could the end of the away goals rule be about to change things?

WORDS Ben Lyttleton | ILLUSTRATION Neil Stevens

Juanfran sticks out his tongue, scratches his nose and begins the long walk. It’s the walk that every player dreads: back to the centre circle after missing a penalty. The Atlético de Madrid defender is disconsolate. The spot-kick, his team’s fourth in the 2016 Champions League final shoot-out, has struck the post. 

Cristiano Ronaldo steps up for Real Madrid and smashes the ball to goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s left. After a 1-1 draw, Real Madrid win the shoot-out 5-3, sealing yet another European title. After the game, Juanfran walks slowly towards the Atlético fans. He stands alone in the penalty area, bows his head in apology and in return receives a standing ovation. His solitude does not last long; soon his team-mates hug him in an overwhelming embrace, showing their love and support. 

If this shoot-out sticks in the mind for those outside of Madrid, there is good reason: going into this season’s quarter-finals, there has not been a single penalty shoot-out in the Champions League since. That’s 83 ties – 78 knockout match-ups and five finals – without complete deadlock after 120 minutes.

Nine of those fixtures have been decided by the away goals rule. This season, UEFA has cancelled that rule. So, will we see more penalty shoot-outs after a five-year hiatus? And if so, will they look any different?

First, we need to look at just how anomalous this five-year run has been. The starting point, according to penalty academic Professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta (whose research on the subject led to FIFA trialling the ABBA order of penalties), is to calculate the expected number of shoot-outs.

This he does not by working out the chances of a single game going the distance. That number – which is about 25% for a one-off game – is relevant only for the five finals and the six single-legged knockout ties held in Lisbon in August 2020, as the Covid pandemic impacted the calendar.

As for the other 72 contests: “In a two-legged tie, the scores in the two games have to be exactly the same, plus again what happens in extra time has to be exactly the same,” Palacios-Huerta explains. “We need to have a sense of quality difference in each round, but as each team approaches the final, they will become closer in quality too.” 

Juanfran sticks out his tongue, scratches his nose and begins the long walk. It’s the walk that every player dreads: back to the centre circle after missing a penalty. The Atlético de Madrid defender is disconsolate. The spot-kick, his team’s fourth in the 2016 Champions League final shoot-out, has struck the post. 

Cristiano Ronaldo steps up for Real Madrid and smashes the ball to goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s left. After a 1-1 draw, Real Madrid win the shoot-out 5-3, sealing yet another European title. After the game, Juanfran walks slowly towards the Atlético fans. He stands alone in the penalty area, bows his head in apology and in return receives a standing ovation. His solitude does not last long; soon his team-mates hug him in an overwhelming embrace, showing their love and support. 

If this shoot-out sticks in the mind for those outside of Madrid, there is good reason: going into this season’s quarter-finals, there has not been a single penalty shoot-out in the Champions League since. That’s 83 ties – 78 knockout match-ups and five finals – without complete deadlock after 120 minutes.

Nine of those fixtures have been decided by the away goals rule. This season, UEFA has cancelled that rule. So, will we see more penalty shoot-outs after a five-year hiatus? And if so, will they look any different?

First, we need to look at just how anomalous this five-year run has been. The starting point, according to penalty academic Professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta (whose research on the subject led to FIFA trialling the ABBA order of penalties), is to calculate the expected number of shoot-outs.

This he does not by working out the chances of a single game going the distance. That number – which is about 25% for a one-off game – is relevant only for the five finals and the six single-legged knockout ties held in Lisbon in August 2020, as the Covid pandemic impacted the calendar.

As for the other 72 contests: “In a two-legged tie, the scores in the two games have to be exactly the same, plus again what happens in extra time has to be exactly the same,” Palacios-Huerta explains. “We need to have a sense of quality difference in each round, but as each team approaches the final, they will become closer in quality too.” 

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

His numbers suggest that 72 two-legged ties throw up a 3% chance of a shoot-out, which comes out at close to two shoot-outs. If you add the five finals and six other one-off games – which equate to nearly three shoot-outs – we are four or five short of the expected amount. 

Six years is a long time in football, and since 2016 many clubs have tapped into the use of football analytics to gain an edge. This can, or at least should, affect their approach to penalty shoot-outs. The statistical research I carried out while writing my book Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty, suggested two clear approaches to improve chances of success. First, teams who win the toss should choose to kick first, as it provides a slight advantage; and second, players should consider the time taken between the referee’s whistle and starting their run-up.

We have seen recent high-profile examples of both cases. Villarreal won the 2021 Europa League final by beating Manchester United 11-10 on penalties. The one player to miss was goalkeeper David de Gea, taking United’s 11th spot kick in all and their seventh to avoid defeat. Kicking to avoid defeat leads to more penalty misses than kicking to win. But United captain Bruno Fernandes had won the toss and chosen to go second.

There is no ideal length of time to wait before taking a penalty. The key factor is that the players do not rush this moment. Take France striker Kylian Mbappé’s effort against Switzerland at EURO 2020. While his team-mates Paul Pogba (6.5 seconds), Olivier Giroud (4 seconds), Marcus Thuram (3.5 seconds) and Presnel Kimpembe (3 seconds) all took time to start their run-up, Mbappé rushed, waiting just 0.2 seconds. He was the only player who did not score.

There is one other element I hope to see more of in future shoot-outs: the use of effective goalkeeper substitutions. In recent years, coaches have been willing to bring on outfield players late in extra time specifically for a penalty. In the 2021 Europa League final, Dani Raba (Villarreal), Juan Mata and Alex Telles (United) all scored early penalties after coming on deep into stoppage time – although in the EURO 2020 final, England did not have spot-kick success after subbing on Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho. 

But there is no reason why coaches shouldn’t consider bringing on a goalkeeper to turn a tie; after all, their job is to use the full squad to give their team the best chance of winning. As a case in point, goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga came off the bench to help Chelsea win the 2021 UEFA Super Cup on penalties. Kepa was a less successful sub in the 2022 League Cup final, missing the decisive penalty (which, unsurprisingly, he took quickest).

That’s the beauty of the penalty shoot-out. It may feel like an individual battle within a game, but it’s also about the team, and each individual’s position within it. Bring on the drama! 

Juanfran sticks out his tongue, scratches his nose and begins the long walk. It’s the walk that every player dreads: back to the centre circle after missing a penalty. The Atlético de Madrid defender is disconsolate. The spot-kick, his team’s fourth in the 2016 Champions League final shoot-out, has struck the post. 

Cristiano Ronaldo steps up for Real Madrid and smashes the ball to goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s left. After a 1-1 draw, Real Madrid win the shoot-out 5-3, sealing yet another European title. After the game, Juanfran walks slowly towards the Atlético fans. He stands alone in the penalty area, bows his head in apology and in return receives a standing ovation. His solitude does not last long; soon his team-mates hug him in an overwhelming embrace, showing their love and support. 

If this shoot-out sticks in the mind for those outside of Madrid, there is good reason: going into this season’s quarter-finals, there has not been a single penalty shoot-out in the Champions League since. That’s 83 ties – 78 knockout match-ups and five finals – without complete deadlock after 120 minutes.

Nine of those fixtures have been decided by the away goals rule. This season, UEFA has cancelled that rule. So, will we see more penalty shoot-outs after a five-year hiatus? And if so, will they look any different?

First, we need to look at just how anomalous this five-year run has been. The starting point, according to penalty academic Professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta (whose research on the subject led to FIFA trialling the ABBA order of penalties), is to calculate the expected number of shoot-outs.

This he does not by working out the chances of a single game going the distance. That number – which is about 25% for a one-off game – is relevant only for the five finals and the six single-legged knockout ties held in Lisbon in August 2020, as the Covid pandemic impacted the calendar.

As for the other 72 contests: “In a two-legged tie, the scores in the two games have to be exactly the same, plus again what happens in extra time has to be exactly the same,” Palacios-Huerta explains. “We need to have a sense of quality difference in each round, but as each team approaches the final, they will become closer in quality too.” 

Spot test
Insight

Spot test

Not since the 2016 final has a knockout game been decided by penalties in the Champions League. Could the end of the away goals rule be about to change things?

WORDS Ben Lyttleton | ILLUSTRATION Neil Stevens

Juanfran sticks out his tongue, scratches his nose and begins the long walk. It’s the walk that every player dreads: back to the centre circle after missing a penalty. The Atlético de Madrid defender is disconsolate. The spot-kick, his team’s fourth in the 2016 Champions League final shoot-out, has struck the post. 

Cristiano Ronaldo steps up for Real Madrid and smashes the ball to goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s left. After a 1-1 draw, Real Madrid win the shoot-out 5-3, sealing yet another European title. After the game, Juanfran walks slowly towards the Atlético fans. He stands alone in the penalty area, bows his head in apology and in return receives a standing ovation. His solitude does not last long; soon his team-mates hug him in an overwhelming embrace, showing their love and support. 

If this shoot-out sticks in the mind for those outside of Madrid, there is good reason: going into this season’s quarter-finals, there has not been a single penalty shoot-out in the Champions League since. That’s 83 ties – 78 knockout match-ups and five finals – without complete deadlock after 120 minutes.

Nine of those fixtures have been decided by the away goals rule. This season, UEFA has cancelled that rule. So, will we see more penalty shoot-outs after a five-year hiatus? And if so, will they look any different?

First, we need to look at just how anomalous this five-year run has been. The starting point, according to penalty academic Professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta (whose research on the subject led to FIFA trialling the ABBA order of penalties), is to calculate the expected number of shoot-outs.

This he does not by working out the chances of a single game going the distance. That number – which is about 25% for a one-off game – is relevant only for the five finals and the six single-legged knockout ties held in Lisbon in August 2020, as the Covid pandemic impacted the calendar.

As for the other 72 contests: “In a two-legged tie, the scores in the two games have to be exactly the same, plus again what happens in extra time has to be exactly the same,” Palacios-Huerta explains. “We need to have a sense of quality difference in each round, but as each team approaches the final, they will become closer in quality too.” 

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

Juanfran sticks out his tongue, scratches his nose and begins the long walk. It’s the walk that every player dreads: back to the centre circle after missing a penalty. The Atlético de Madrid defender is disconsolate. The spot-kick, his team’s fourth in the 2016 Champions League final shoot-out, has struck the post. 

Cristiano Ronaldo steps up for Real Madrid and smashes the ball to goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s left. After a 1-1 draw, Real Madrid win the shoot-out 5-3, sealing yet another European title. After the game, Juanfran walks slowly towards the Atlético fans. He stands alone in the penalty area, bows his head in apology and in return receives a standing ovation. His solitude does not last long; soon his team-mates hug him in an overwhelming embrace, showing their love and support. 

If this shoot-out sticks in the mind for those outside of Madrid, there is good reason: going into this season’s quarter-finals, there has not been a single penalty shoot-out in the Champions League since. That’s 83 ties – 78 knockout match-ups and five finals – without complete deadlock after 120 minutes.

Nine of those fixtures have been decided by the away goals rule. This season, UEFA has cancelled that rule. So, will we see more penalty shoot-outs after a five-year hiatus? And if so, will they look any different?

First, we need to look at just how anomalous this five-year run has been. The starting point, according to penalty academic Professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta (whose research on the subject led to FIFA trialling the ABBA order of penalties), is to calculate the expected number of shoot-outs.

This he does not by working out the chances of a single game going the distance. That number – which is about 25% for a one-off game – is relevant only for the five finals and the six single-legged knockout ties held in Lisbon in August 2020, as the Covid pandemic impacted the calendar.

As for the other 72 contests: “In a two-legged tie, the scores in the two games have to be exactly the same, plus again what happens in extra time has to be exactly the same,” Palacios-Huerta explains. “We need to have a sense of quality difference in each round, but as each team approaches the final, they will become closer in quality too.” 

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

His numbers suggest that 72 two-legged ties throw up a 3% chance of a shoot-out, which comes out at close to two shoot-outs. If you add the five finals and six other one-off games – which equate to nearly three shoot-outs – we are four or five short of the expected amount. 

Six years is a long time in football, and since 2016 many clubs have tapped into the use of football analytics to gain an edge. This can, or at least should, affect their approach to penalty shoot-outs. The statistical research I carried out while writing my book Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty, suggested two clear approaches to improve chances of success. First, teams who win the toss should choose to kick first, as it provides a slight advantage; and second, players should consider the time taken between the referee’s whistle and starting their run-up.

We have seen recent high-profile examples of both cases. Villarreal won the 2021 Europa League final by beating Manchester United 11-10 on penalties. The one player to miss was goalkeeper David de Gea, taking United’s 11th spot kick in all and their seventh to avoid defeat. Kicking to avoid defeat leads to more penalty misses than kicking to win. But United captain Bruno Fernandes had won the toss and chosen to go second.

There is no ideal length of time to wait before taking a penalty. The key factor is that the players do not rush this moment. Take France striker Kylian Mbappé’s effort against Switzerland at EURO 2020. While his team-mates Paul Pogba (6.5 seconds), Olivier Giroud (4 seconds), Marcus Thuram (3.5 seconds) and Presnel Kimpembe (3 seconds) all took time to start their run-up, Mbappé rushed, waiting just 0.2 seconds. He was the only player who did not score.

There is one other element I hope to see more of in future shoot-outs: the use of effective goalkeeper substitutions. In recent years, coaches have been willing to bring on outfield players late in extra time specifically for a penalty. In the 2021 Europa League final, Dani Raba (Villarreal), Juan Mata and Alex Telles (United) all scored early penalties after coming on deep into stoppage time – although in the EURO 2020 final, England did not have spot-kick success after subbing on Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho. 

But there is no reason why coaches shouldn’t consider bringing on a goalkeeper to turn a tie; after all, their job is to use the full squad to give their team the best chance of winning. As a case in point, goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga came off the bench to help Chelsea win the 2021 UEFA Super Cup on penalties. Kepa was a less successful sub in the 2022 League Cup final, missing the decisive penalty (which, unsurprisingly, he took quickest).

That’s the beauty of the penalty shoot-out. It may feel like an individual battle within a game, but it’s also about the team, and each individual’s position within it. Bring on the drama! 

Juanfran sticks out his tongue, scratches his nose and begins the long walk. It’s the walk that every player dreads: back to the centre circle after missing a penalty. The Atlético de Madrid defender is disconsolate. The spot-kick, his team’s fourth in the 2016 Champions League final shoot-out, has struck the post. 

Cristiano Ronaldo steps up for Real Madrid and smashes the ball to goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s left. After a 1-1 draw, Real Madrid win the shoot-out 5-3, sealing yet another European title. After the game, Juanfran walks slowly towards the Atlético fans. He stands alone in the penalty area, bows his head in apology and in return receives a standing ovation. His solitude does not last long; soon his team-mates hug him in an overwhelming embrace, showing their love and support. 

If this shoot-out sticks in the mind for those outside of Madrid, there is good reason: going into this season’s quarter-finals, there has not been a single penalty shoot-out in the Champions League since. That’s 83 ties – 78 knockout match-ups and five finals – without complete deadlock after 120 minutes.

Nine of those fixtures have been decided by the away goals rule. This season, UEFA has cancelled that rule. So, will we see more penalty shoot-outs after a five-year hiatus? And if so, will they look any different?

First, we need to look at just how anomalous this five-year run has been. The starting point, according to penalty academic Professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta (whose research on the subject led to FIFA trialling the ABBA order of penalties), is to calculate the expected number of shoot-outs.

This he does not by working out the chances of a single game going the distance. That number – which is about 25% for a one-off game – is relevant only for the five finals and the six single-legged knockout ties held in Lisbon in August 2020, as the Covid pandemic impacted the calendar.

As for the other 72 contests: “In a two-legged tie, the scores in the two games have to be exactly the same, plus again what happens in extra time has to be exactly the same,” Palacios-Huerta explains. “We need to have a sense of quality difference in each round, but as each team approaches the final, they will become closer in quality too.” 

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

To access this article, as well as all CJ+ content and competitions, you will need a subscription to Champions Journal.
Already a subscriber? Sign in
close
Special Offers
christmas offer
Christmas CHEER
Up to 40% off
Start shopping
50% off
game night flash sale!!!
Don't miss out
00
Hours
:
00
minutes
:
00
Seconds
Valid on selected products only. subscriptions not included
close