One of soccer’s most meticulous and deep-thinking coaches, Pep Guardiola seemingly cannot come up with an answer to a big flaw hurting his Manchester City team.
The relatively simple task of converting a penalty.
“This is a problem,” a perplexed Guardiola said after seeing Riyad Mahrez fail to score from a spot kick — again — in the 0-0 draw at Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Since Guardiola took charge of City in 2016, the team has failed to score 25 of its 80 penalties in all competitions — excluding shootouts. No Premier League team has a worse record from the penalty spot in that time.
Nine players have stepped up to take regulation penalties in that time, with Mahrez and the now-retired Sergio Aguero the biggest culprits from 12 yards (meters). Aguero scored 20 of his 28 penalties while Mahrez also has a 71% success rate with 10 scored from 14 attempts.
While Mahrez’s latest failure didn’t prove too costly because City had already qualified for the last 16, there have been some significant misses or saved penalties in recent years.
In the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals in 2019, Aguero had a penalty saved by Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to deny City a crucial away goal before Spurs won 1-0. City exited the competition at that stage on away goals.
Mahrez smashed a spot kick over the crossbar in the 86th minute in City’s 0-0 draw against title rival Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League in October 2018.
Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan also have failed to score penalties against Liverpool in the league under Guardiola.
There was even one match, against Wolverhampton, where Raheem Sterling — who is now at Chelsea — had a penalty saved before it was ordered to be retaken because the goalkeeper was off his line. The second attempt was saved, too, only for Sterling to score from the rebound.
“We’ve missed 25 penalties, most of them in the Champions League. That’s too much,” Guardiola said. “I always admire their courage, (taking) the responsibility to do it, but of course we’ve missed a lot of penalties and this is a problem.
“We have to improve otherwise these are the small margins in this competition that could make the difference.”
And Guardiola knows all too well about the pain of penalty failures in the Champions League.
When he was at Barcelona, Guardiola saw Lionel Messi strike a penalty against the bar in the second leg of the semifinals against Chelsea in 2012. It would have put Barcelona 3-1 ahead on the night and 3-2 up on aggregate, and the Spanish team ended up conceding a late goal to get eliminated.
When he was in charge of Bayern Munich, Guardiola saw Thomas Mueller have a penalty saved against Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the semifinals in 2016 and his team ultimately went out on the away-goals rule.
At City, Guardiola has previously suggested that his goalkeeper, Ederson Moraes, might be the best penalty-taker at the club. Ederson has yet to take one, however.
And City’s problem might be that penalty duties have been spread around too much in Guardiola’s time.
“I don’t think it’s helped that there hasn’t been that consistency,” former City defender Joleon Lescott told BT Sport. “I think Riyad has been that taker, De Bruyne has taken them, Gundogan, now (Erling) Haaland.
“I think in all the teams we’ve played in, there’s always been one consistent penalty-taker.”
Haaland, City’s new star striker, was off the field when City was awarded the penalty against Dortmund. Otherwise he would have taken it, having converted two from two so far in his first season at the club — most recently against Brighton in the Premier League on Saturday.
Haaland wasn’t on the field, either, when Mahrez had a penalty saved against FC Copenhagen in City’s previous Champions League match.
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