It’s just as well Barcelona have one of the best forward lines in the history of the game as they have missed half of their penalties this season.
Fortunately for the treble-winners, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar score enough goals from open play to compensate for their wastefulness from the spot, but as the season nears the vital run-in such profligacy could prove costly. Barcelona need to work out who to trust with a spot kick when it really matters.
So who should take their penalties going forward? Barcelona have taken 20 penalties this season, or 19 if we ignore the infamous ‘pass penalty’ against Celta Vigo, which nobody is quite sure how to categorise. Of their 19 orthodox penalties, Messi has taken seven, Suarez has taken four and Neymar has taken eight. The most successful in percentage terms is Messi, whose 57% conversion rate is better than the 50% rates of Neymar and Suarez.
Yet Messi, Barcelona’s long-time penalty-taker, is on a downward trend in terms of his penalty-taking success. Following three seasons with a success percentage over 80%, Messi’s success from the spot dropped to 67% last year and to 57% this year. It is not hyperbole to say that Messi is slowly losing his magic touch from the penalty spot.That leaves Suarez and Neymar as the alternatives given that Andres Iniesta, Arda Turan and Ivan Rakitic, the only other Barcelona players to have taken multiple penalties in their senior careers, all have worse scoring rates than the MSN.
Suarez actually has a poor penalty-taking history in recent years. Before scoring two of his four penalties this season, Suarez had not scored a penalty in club football since 2010, when he was still at Ajax. He took two penalties at Liverpool, but missed both and was swiftly taken off penalty duty. Suarez did not take a spot kick in his first season at Barcelona and has certainly appeared a little rusty from 12 yards.
Neymar, meanwhile, is having the most successful season of Barcelona’s front free if we also include penalties scored on international duty. Including the two penalties Neymar sent past Tim Howard in Brazil’s friendly with the USA in September, Neymar has netted six times from 10 attempts in 2015-16, the best record of the Barcelona front three.
Looking at their whole careers, it is still tough to separate them. Messi, Suarez and Neymar have very similar rates of success, with Messi boasting a 78% success rate, while Suarez and Neymar have both scored 77% of their career spot kicks.
Barcelona should, therefore, go with the player who handles the pressure of spot kicks the best, which is Neymar. In terms of penalties taken when Barcelona and their opponents are just one goal apart or level, i.e. when the pressure is the highest, Neymar is by far the most capable of dealing with the pressure. The Brazilian has scored 80% of his penalties in such situations over the past two seasons, while Messi and Suarez have scored 44% and 0% respectively. Going forward, Barcelona should let Neymar take the spot kicks when the game is on the line. He handles the pressure penalty kicks the best.