Eric Cantona scores against Liverpool in his comeback game.

Who has been United's best penalty taker?

Wednesday 21 November 2018 10:47

We probably all have our own opinion on which Manchester United player we would most like to see stepping up to take a crucial penalty.

Who was the coolest in those circumstances? Which Red was the most reliable? Who would you put your house on not failing from 12 yards out?

There have been some heroes from the spot in the past, not to mention those who kept their heads in shoot-outs (yes, Moscow in 2008 leaps to mind). But, thanks to @OptaJoe, we have statistical proof as to our best penalty takers in the Premier League.

Cristiano Ronaldo scores in the final-day win over Wigan Athletic in 2008.

ERIC CANTONA - 14 out of 16 (87.5%)

'King Eric' only ever missed twice in the league, against Blackburn Rovers and former club Leeds United and, on both occasions, he went on to score later in the match. His secret was apparently to watch a keeper's knees and, once they moved in one direction, he would place the ball in the other. The two FA Cup final goals against Chelsea in 1994 were evidence of this technique, even if they do not count here, and it would be difficult to find a cooler character when the chance came to score from 12 yards out. The one past Liverpool in his first game back after suspension was pretty special.

CRISTIANO RONALDO - 11 out of 13 (84.6%)

Yes, he may have had his effort saved in the aforementioned Champions League shoot-out triumph over Chelsea but he was usually reliable from these dead-ball situations. In intense circumstances, with the Reds on the brink of the title, he kept his nerve against Manchester City in 2007 and Wigan Athletic a year later. The Portuguese star did fail from the spot in the first leg of the 2007/08 Champions League semi-final against Barcelona but he only missed twice in the league in his time in England - both in late December (against Wigan in 2006 and West Ham a year later).

RUUD VAN NISTELROOY - 18 out of 22 (81.8%)

Ruud was one of those strikers who seemed to greedily view penalties as a simple opportunity to get his goal tally up. The ruthless Netherlands international failed on four occasions - once in the last minute of the infamous 0-0 draw with Arsenal, hitting the underside of the bar, as the Gunners then went the whole league season unbeaten. Quite how cathartic it was for him to then beat Jens Lehmann a year later, in 2004, to help end the Londoners' proud run, was evident from the primal scream he unleashed near the corner flag afterwards. When it came to scoring goals, few could compare with the Dutch hitman.

DENIS IRWIN - 7 out of 9 (77.8%)

The personification of reliability, the full-back never let anybody down and was largely nerveless in such situations. His 80th-minute effort against Southampton in 1994/95 ensured the Reds took the title race with Blackburn Rovers to the final day and he twice found the net against Liverpool (in 1998 and 1999), with Brad Friedel in goal on both occasions. The Republic of Ireland international was also on the mark at Champions League level from the spot and, like former colleague Steve Bruce (who scored two out of two in the Premier League but most of his penalties came before the new division was formed), he was a dead-eyed defender.

ROBIN VAN PERSIE - 6 out of 8 (75%)

Another Dutch striker who loved hitting the back of the net, the astute signing from Arsenal slammed in most of his penalties at United. One that sticks in the memory came against his former club at the Emirates Stadium, when he had already helped Sir Alex Ferguson's team clinch a 20th title. He missed a dinked attempt in a dramatic win at Southampton, earning a clip around the ear from MUTV pundit Paddy Crerand afterwards (!) but still grabbed a hat-trick in the 3-2 win. Van Persie's other failed effort came in a 1-0 defeat to West Brom in 2015 but who can forget his ice-cool winner past Liverpool's Pepe Reina at Anfield in September 2012?

Ruud van Nistelrooy calmly finds the net against Arsenal in 2004.

WAYNE ROONEY - 20 out of 28 (71.4%)

Our former skipper is the man who has scored more penalties than anybody else in a United shirt in Premier League history. He found the net on 20 occasions but the fact he also missed eight times means his success-rate is below those already mentioned. That said, the DC United star scored probably the most important spot-kick in that time when smashing home at Blackburn Rovers' Ewood Park to seal the title on 14 May, 2011. He also scored twice from the spot in a single Premier League match for United - against Portsmouth (2009) and Chelsea (2012). When it came to taking responsibility, the striker was always willing to step forward.   

Honorable mentions should go to some of those who took four penalties or fewer for the Reds in the division. Louis Saha has the best 100 per cent record, having converted all four of his attempts, while Bruce could certainly lay claim to being unlucky not to be in the conversation because of the change to the Premier League. Andy Cole, despite notching 121 goals in total for the club, famously never scored a penalty. 

United rejoice after Wayne Rooney buries his penalty at Blackburn Rovers.

Statistics, courtesy of @OptaJoe, correct as of 16 November 2018.

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