Penalties becoming a key part of football
Penalties have become a key part of modern football and that trend has continued at the start of this season.
Since football resumed after lockdown, spot-kicks have featured in most United matches. Not only did Bruno Fernandes score one in our first game back, at Tottenham, we were also awarded a second late on, only for the decision to be overturned by VAR as Marcus Rashford prepared to step up to win the game.
There was a three-match run without one but Rashford scored from the spot against Bournemouth, who converted their own through former Red Joshua King during United's 5-2 win. Fernandes then opened the scoring at Aston Villa from 12 yards after an award that continues to be deemed to be controversial, even if it went through the standard VAR check.
Two matches followed without one before Bruno struck a consolation penalty at Wembley in the Emirates FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea, and Michail Antonio netted a spot-kick for West Ham in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
Bruno kept his cool to beat Kasper Scheichel in the crunch final-day Premier League encounter with Leicester City and, after the job in the Europa League was completed against LASK, he kept it up in Germany as the tournament continued, with both our goals coming from his penalties (against FC Copenhagen and Sevilla).
This season, with the handball rules altered to seemingly become stricter, referees have been pointing to the spot with unprecedented regularity, often with assistance from VAR.
Victor Lindelof was penalised against Crystal Palace and, of course, even though David De Gea saved from Jordan Ayew, there was a retake with Wilfried Zaha slamming the ball home. There was no VAR at Luton Town on Tuesday but George Moncur's foul on Brandon Williams resulted in a United spot-kick, with Juan Mata doing the honours on this occasion.
Yet it is not just prevalent in matches involving the Reds. Only John Lundstram and Jorginho have missed, so far, in the Premier League and 11 have been converted over the two gameweeks. So that's a total of 13 penalties given across 18 games.
When the topic was brought up with Bruno during his exclusive United Review interview, with particular reference to Liverpool and Leicester City both scoring two penalties apiece in their opening fixtures (from Mohamed Salah and Jamie Vardy), he laughed.
“Yeah but we can’t talk a lot about penalties because everybody will say: ‘Bruno only scores with penalties’,” he replied.
“If the others score them, it’s no problem! They just score a penalty, you know! Penalties are part of the game, you know. You need to score. You have the chance but you need to score.
“I know everyone is talking about them like it’s easy but you can lose a final with a penalty. Manchester wins the Champions League in Moscow with penalties [in 2008]. For most people, it’s easy when you’re in front of the TV. It is easy – just look at the goalkeeper jump to his left so why don’t you shoot to the right? Yeah, I can shoot to the right but, on my mind, was the left and the goalkeeper saved it! It can happen! But the most important thing, for me, is to keep scoring.
“It doesn’t matter if I take penalties,“ he stressed.“We have a lot of qualities in the team, like I’ve said before. I already talked with some players. Rashy was the guy who took the penalties so I tell him:, 'When you feel confident, if you want to take the penalty, for me, it is not a problem.' I will not fight.“I feel confident with penalties and I want to take them but, if someone comes to me to ask to take a penalty, I will not fight every time, just to take a penalty. In that moment, I can be tired or not prepared to take a penalty and I can say easily: ‘You take it’.“I trust in my team-mates – Rashy, Anthony [Martial] and also Paul [Pogba], they have a lot of qualities and can take it. We have really good penalty-takers. The most important thing is scoring for Manchester United. It doesn’t matter if it is Bruno or someone else.”
Bruno has scored each of his eight penalties since joining the Reds (overall he has netted 28 out of 30 in his career) and will be looking to maintain that impressive streak the next time he is put on the spot.
It could happen at Brighton this weekend, scene of his two excellent goals from open play last season, considering the fact that they have become so common in modern-day football.
What does seem certain is, with the new rules in place, we will get used to seeing more and more penalties being awarded in top-flight football.