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Defenders Paying The Penalty

It’s pretty obvious Chelsea have had a horrendous week. Their captain and talisman under police investigation for racism, their billionaire owner unable to do what he wants with the stadium and losing five goals at home to Arsenal. Yet if I was a Chelsea fan there is one moment from the past week that may have troubled me even more.

It came at the KRC Genk Arena after 40 minutes of Tuesday’s Champions League tie with their Belgian opponents. Thomas Buffel handles a Florent Malouda cross, penalty to Chelsea. Usual taker Frank Lampard is still perched on the bench but the Blues still had an abundance of attacking talent to step up:

  • · £50m Fernando Torres
  • · £13m Florent Malouda
  • · £15m Nicolas Anelka
  • · £12m Raul Meireles
  • · £17m Ramires

Imagine the surprise when David Luiz ambles up to the spot ball in hand. To be honest, it would be irrelevant if he had actually scored as you would still wonder why the £100m worth of attack-minded talent above were standing on the edge of the box and not inside taking the penalty.

Are some of the Chelsea squad that mentally fragile or lacking in confidence? The answer could be yes if you consider their record in penalty shootouts. Their Carling Cup spot-kick success over Fulham earlier this season was only their second in nine attempts. The most famous of those of course came in the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow in the 2008 Champions League Final.

The most famous penalty of that shootout was probably John Terry’s, but I still think it was appropriate the decisive miss was that of Nicolas Anelka who despite being transferred for over £90m in his career was down for penalty number seven, behind Belletti as well as Terry. Anelka seems happy to take penalties in Carling Cup (including last week’s miss against Everton) or routine Premiership games but goes suspiciously missing of responsibility in the bigger games.

Enough has been said about Fernando Torres and his crumble in the past couple of years but how does Luiz suddenly become next in line? I am not totally against defenders taking penalties – but the more successful ones of recent years: Graham Alexander, Leighton Baines (last week aside) and Denis Irwin were all set-piece specialists and attacking full-backs with decent crossing abilities. Centre halves tend to be better on the ball these days but midfielders and strikers who practice finishing in training every single day should surely still be ahead in the queue for penalty duties.

Another recent example of penalty woes of a centre half came in the final Euro 2012 qualifiers last month when Serbia lost 1-0 to Slovenia. With Serbia a goal down and needing to win to secure a play-off spot they are awarded a 64th minute penalty lifeline. Who will take it – Dejan Stankovic, Milos Krasic, Alexsandar Kolarov, Zoran Tosic, Marko Pantelic? Nope, up stepped Nemanja Vidic of all people – the resulting miss looks likely to be one of Vidic’s final acts as an international player following his recent retirement from Serbia duty.

Now picture the scene in Manchester United’s next game at Old Trafford. United win a penalty and the ball gets picked up. Not by Rooney, Hernandez, Nani, Young or Giggs. Up steps Nemanja Vidic. How long would it take Sir Alex to get from dugout to pitch side? I doubt Usain Bolt would get there quicker.

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