Sunday, 20 May 2012

Penalty shoot-out

Watching the Champions League final tonight, I was struck by Petr Cech's performance in the penalty shout-out.  I've long thought that whereas it may be good strategy for a goalkeeper facing an expert penalty taker to guess to dive one way or another, the penalty takers in a shoot-out will usually not be so good at it, and it might be better to wait for the kick.  And that tonight is just what Cech appeared to do.  As he said immediately after the match:
Today I faced six penalties and six times I went the right way.
(He's including the penalty he saved, before the shoot-out.)  He's not explicit about it, but he doesn't say that he guessed the right way.  It seemed to me that he was diving as each penalty was struck rather than before: he failed to save the first penalty, by Philipp Lahm, despite its not being particularly well struck, and despite his getting a hand to it.  He saved the fourth penalty, by Ivica Olic.  The fifth penalty was taken by the experienced Bastian Schweinsteiger, who tried a stutter step in his run up in an attempt to see which way Cech would go: Cech foiled this by standing still until the kick was actually taken, with the result that he was able to get a slight touch on Schweinsteiger's kick, deflecting it against the post and winning the cup for Chelsea.  (Schweinsteiger's decision to adopt this tactic suggests either that I am wrong or that he is none too bright.)

I checked what Cech did in the shoot-out against Manchester United in the corresponding match four years ago: clearly he guesses each time, and dives much earlier than he did tonight.
Objectively it's not good for Russian mineral wealth to be used to buy trophies for teams from Fulham, nor is it good for football that the defensive tactics adopted by Chelsea in the semi-final and final succeeded, more by good luck than by brilliant execution.  But I can't help being pleased when an English team wins this event.

1 comment:

  1. Another possibility - staying still till they shoot takes away the option of hitting it straight down the middle. For a relatively weak penalty taker, faced with a keeper who guesses one way or the other, that might be a good option. There's no danger of hitting it too wide or not wide enough - as long as the keeper dives, it's pretty much a banker. So Cech takes away that option, forcing the striker to hit it to one side or the other. It might go wide; if it doesn't, he's still got a chance of saving it. WIth the best penalty takers, he's pretty much got to anticipate.

    I share your concerns about dull football the appropriate use of mineral wealth, but I'm too tribal to share your pleasure at a Chelsea victory. Still, it's an ill wind...