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A look at Fiorentina’s recent penalty woes and some possible solutions

Let’s try to figure out why the Viola have been sputtering from 12 yards out and how they can fix it.

Atalanta v Fiorentina - Italian Cup football match
Pictured: a whoopsie
Photo by Isabella Bonotto/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Fiorentina eventually took all three points at Spezia on Monday, but they did everything they could to trip themselves up, including missing an early penalty. Krzysztof Piątek was the man who whiffed, taking a run-up that was perhaps too cute before doinking his effort off the upright. It marked his second straight PK miss—although he did turn home the rebound himself against Atalanta in the Coppa last week to spare himself some grief—but it marks the third straight spot kick the Viola have missed in Serie A.

I addressed this a bit in the post-match analysis but, because I was curious about it, I’m going to take a deeper dive into the numbers of penalties. Transfermarkt does a good job of tracking these, so I’m using their data. I’ll start out by looking at how Fiorentina compares to the rest of Serie A in penalty statistics before looking at the current roster to determine who should be taking the so-called easy ones.

Before I do that, though, I’ll quote what I wrote about shooting from 12 yards out: “There’s this weird idea about penalty kicks that a lot of fans have: they’re easy. After all, it’s just shooting into a net from 12 yards out with nobody defending you. How hard can it be? Well, pretty dang hard. After all, if it was so easy, team’s wouldn’t need designated penalty takers.”

How Fiorentina compares to Serie A

As usual, I’m starting us out with a table because that’s an acceptable nerd move. I’ve avoided using cup competition stats as those could skew the data, so it’s only league play. I decided to look at Fiorentina’s penalty statistics from the past 5 seasons and compare them to the league average, which I thought would be enough range to muffle any particularly noisy results.

Some of the numbers may not quite add up because I rounded some stuff, but this is a good overall picture.
All numbers from Transfermarkt

The first thing I noticed upon making this table is that Fiorentina wins more penalties than the average Serie A team. While it’s easy for fans to remember specific incidents not given as penalties, the Viola have relied on a succession of quick and direct attackers for quite some time (Federico Chiesa and Nico González stand out), and those are the players most likely to win penalties.

What really stands out to me, though, is that over the past 5 years, Fiorentina have scored 40% more of their goals from penalties than the average Serie A team. That indicates a reliance on winning fouls in the box rather than creating from open play, which can definitely hamstring a team playing against a discplined and talented defense. The sense many of us have had for a long time that the Viola don’t create enough from open play, then, seems justified.

Of course, winning all those penalties doesn’t mean much if you don’t put them away. Fiorentina, however, has been doing just that over the past half decade. Jordan Veretout, Erick, and (sigh) Dušan Vlahović have all been exceptional from 12 yards out, ensuring that the good guys are above average at penalties every year until this one, when they’ve dropped well below average.

Of course, we’re stressing out about a tiny sample size, and there’s a lot of noise inherent to such small sample sizes. Missing three straight spot kicks might not mean anything besides the universe being inherently chaotic and unpredictable. There’s only so much you can control in a game as unpredictable as soccer, after all, and this might just be one of those times you have to ride it out. Still, Vincenzo Italiano and company should be thinking about how to reverse their fortunes.

Fiorentina’s penalty takers

Now let’s have a gander at who should be the penalty taker going forward. Once again, I’ve made a table out of every player who’s attempted a penalty as a professional and how they’ve fared. For the purposes of this exercise, I’ve included international competitions and cup competitions but have excluded youth appearances. For this exercise, I’ve pulled the numbers from Fbref, as I found their interface to be much simpler for this. I’ve left out players who’ve never attempted a penalty in a competitive fixture, as well as Aleksandr Kokorin.

Numbers from FBref

First of all, that’s not nearly as many players as I’d expected. Having just 8 dudes on the roster who’ve ever taken a penalty in a competitive game highlights just how specialized a skill this is. Giacomo Bonaventura seems like a natural penalty taker, for example, because he’s a creative type who can shoot well. Lucas Torreira seems like the sort of spiky little ball of hatred who’d love this type of pressure. Lucas Martínez Quarta’s well-documented goal thirst hasn’t ever been quenched from 12 yards. It just goes to show you that it takes a very specific player and mindset.

Diving into the mix here, Piątek’s obviously the most experienced penalty taker. Before missing his last two, he was at 90% for his career; recall that, over the past 5 seasons, the Serie A average has been 80%. However, he hasn’t looked especially comfortable from the spot of late as he’s tried the Jorginho approach: take a hop-step right before striking the ball to see which way the goalkeeper’s going and then place it the other way. He’s had the keeper guess the correct direction on his three most recent efforts, resulting in one getting saved and one going off the upright. That said, it could be a matter of the coaching staff just ordering him to start belting them into the corners rather than trying to win the mind games.

If Italiano determines that Piątek’s got the yips and needs to be taken off penalty duty, the pickings get very slim. Arthur Cabral’s been solid but, as he’s behind Piątek in the pecking order for now, he may not be available for the role most of the time. Unless he can usurp the Pole’s berth in the XI, he’ll likely be more of a hypothetical taker than an actual one.

Nico’s the next man up and he looks quite reliable at first glance. However, many of his penalties have come in the 2. Bundelsiga or in the domestic cup; while he did score 3 of his 4 in the Bundesliga last year, he missed the last one he took. Considering how wayward his shooting’s been this year, it may not be worth the risk of battering his confidence with the possibility of having one saved.

The other options probably aren’t the answer either. Cristiano Biraghi’s willingness to take on the responsibility is what you want form a captain, but he’s hardly automatic. The other guys on the list are fill-in penalty takers and probably don’t merit serious consideration, although you’d think that Riccardo Saponara would be a great option, given his technical ability in striking the ball.

Conclusion

Given how reliant on PKs Fiorentina have been over the past few years, finding someone who can consistently bury them is a lot more important than you’d think. Italiano’s best option is probably leaving Piątek in charge of penalties, provided that he just leathers them into the net rather than trying to outwit the goalkeeper. Otherwise, Nico González and Arthur Cabral are decent options; if none of those three are available, it’s pretty much a crap shoot. If Piątek can’t shake his current form from 12 yards, though, don’t be surprised if Daniele Pradè prioritizes someone with a history of banging in PKs this summer.