The only negative to come out of Leicester’s 2-1 over Swansea City prior to the international break was that, really, it should have been won by more. Not just because their level of play earned that, which it did, but because they spurned a chance to put the game away and make it 3-0 when superstar Riyad Mahrez missed a penalty.
The Algerian began last season as the team’s penalty taker and, after a strong start in which he scored 4/4 by Christmas, his careful placement-over-power approach appeared to fail him in the new year, as he missed crucial spot kicks in disappointing draws against Bournemouth and Aston Villa.
After the second, the duty was taken from him and given to Jamie Vardy and, in his absence, Leo Ulloa. Between them, they converted 6/7 from there on, with the only miss an absolute skyer by Vardy, with the team already 3-1 up against Everton in the title-winning celebration game.
So it was somewhat of a surprise when Leicester were awarded a penalty against Hull City in week 1 and Mahrez stepped up to take it. Unlike last season’s attempts, however, he struck the ball with much more conviction, more akin to one of Vardy’s penalties. He scored and all seemed to be right in the spot kick world. His miss against Swansea, however, has thrown it all back into doubt.
A consistent penalty taker is actually more important for Leicester City than most other clubs. Under Ranieri’s cautious Italian approach, the emphasis has been much on goal prevention than scoring, while their lightning fast counter attacks, combined with the dazzling dribbling of Mahrez has made the team somewhat penalty winning experts.
The 13 penalties awarded to the Foxes last year not only lead the league, it was the most ever in a 38-game Premier League season. With 2 won through just 3 games, Leicester are leading pack again this year.
“Our players who shoot penalty is Riyad and Vardy. They speak and they choose. I speak with both players then I decide” - Claudio Ranieri on penalty takers
It seems clear Mahrez shouldn’t be taking them and Ranieri has told us that he will consider a switch to Vardy taking penalties, but who should take on such a crucial job?
Career Record: 5/8 (63%)
Having never taken one before last season, he had a fast start but has since missed 3 of his last 4. That’s not good enough.
Career Record: 5/6 (83%)
Another who hadn’t taken one before last year. The one miss was fairly meaningless and in unusual circumstances, but he certainly doesn’t have much experience. Likes to put his foot through, without much thought for placement.
Career Record: 4/6 (66%)
A perfect 3/3 with the Foxes, including that pressure kick against West Ham, but starting him just in case there’s a penalty seems a bit much.
Shinji Okazaki/Ahmed Musa/Christian Fuchs
Career Records: 1/2 (50%)
Shinji and Fuchs have had long careers without ever being asked to take penalties, while Musa is not a natural or calm finisher.
Rest of Squad
Career Records: 0/0
Career Record: 4/6 (67%)
In other words, despite the number they win, the team is very inexperienced at actually taking penalties. Jamie Vardy will get the next crack at taking them, and he’s probably earned it but in the scenario where the Vardy is unavailable, or also proves inconsistent, then we’re actually pretty stuck on penalties.
Of course, every penalty taker has to start somewhere. I’m pretty confident that if he makes some attempt to aim the ball at the goal, Vardy can be a great penalty taker for us.