Paul Pogba’s penalties represent the technique of a player with full faith in his ability. By playing the Frenchman at his own game, however, Premier League goalkeepers have a strong chance of coming out on top.
Against Everton earlier this month, Pogba’s spot-kick inadvertently ended up in the net. To Manchester United, it was ultimately successful. To goalkeepers, it was further evidence to bolster the How-To-Stop-A-Pogba-Penalty rulebook.
After the game, Pogba claimed he tries to “destabilise the keeper” before admitting he “might maybe practise to change it because maybe the keepers start to know my steps.”
They do. Jordan Pickford told Everton’s website he’d done his research on all 28 of Pogba’s steps prior to the clash. He was the complete opposite of being destabilised. He knew Pogba was going to gaze deep into eyes up until a split-second before striking the spot-kick in the hope Pickford would make the first move. By not making that first move, Pogba was hamstrung.
Two of the best penalty takers I came up against were Heidar Helguson and Cristiano Ronaldo. Heidar had an incredible skill of watching the goalkeeper before casually rolling his effort into the opposite corner. He’d hold off for the goalkeeper to shift and then strike. He boasted a 100 percent record.
Before that, goalkeepers were more likely to gamble, go earlier and dive full out in the (often unsuccessful) hope of thwarting the likes of Alan Shearer and David Beckham, because their penalties usually went in the same area. Jamie Vardy is a more recent example of a player who drops his head early in his run-up, but it’s gradually becoming less common.
Now, the key element is simply to wait. Don’t give Pogba an inch, because that’s exactly what he’s waiting for.
Moreover, due to the last-moment nature of such an approach, he’ll almost certainly have to hook his penalty rather than open his body up (a right-footer, like Pogba, would go to his left, a left-footer would go to his right). Not succumbing to Pogba’s attempted destabilisation means you increase your chances of going the right way, as was proven with both Joe Hart and Pickford correctly diving to that effect.
Don’t give Pogba an inch, because that’s what he’s waiting for
The frustration for Pickford was that Pogba didn’t execute his penalty as well as he should have. Pickford’s dive was strong, yet Pogba’s effort wasn’t directly in the corner. That resulted in Pickford reaching back across himself and not being able to generate enough power to push it into a safer area.
Whether the maverick midfielder chooses to try something new remains to be seen. Regardless of the player, goalkeepers are wising up to the technique.
May the cat and mouse commence.