Try as he might, Neto just could not reach Sergio Ramos’ penalty shot.

On Saturday, Oct. 24, the FC Barcelona man became the latest in a long list of goalkeepers tasked with trying to save a Ramos penalty attempt. But despite diving in the correct direction and getting a slight touch on the ball, Neto could not get his right hand down quick enough to divert Ramos’ shot away. 

As Neto picked the ball out of his net, Ramos wheeled away to celebrate what would eventually hold to be the winner in his Real Madrid side’s 3-1 win over the Catalans.

To say Ramos has been hot from the penalty spot as of late would be an understatement. The 34-year-old Real Madrid captain has converted each of his last 23 penalty kicks (25 if you include shootouts). He’s faced the likes of Jan Oblak (three times), Igor Akinfeev and Fernando Muslera along the way, and yet he’s confidently converted each and every single one of his spot-kicks. 

In fact, since the start of the 2017-18 season, Ramos has taken 27 non-shootout penalties across the club and international levels, and he’s scored 26 of them. His only miss — a strike against the crossbar in a 3-2 loss to Sevilla — came on May 9, 2018, over two years ago.

His penalty conversion rate in that span is 96%, which ranks him among the most clinical penalty takers in the major European leagues (15+ penalties taken). For comparison, he’s converted more of his penalties since August 2017 than Lionel Messi (16 of 22, 73%), Ciro Immobile (29 of 33, 88%), Robert Lewandowski (26 of 28, 93%), and even Cristiano Ronaldo (34 of 39, 87%).

Once memed for missing penalties against Bayern Munich and Brazil, Ramos is now one of the most lethal penalty takers in world football. No longer do goalkeepers chuckle when they see the Spaniard approach the 12-yard mark. Instead, Ramos’ run-up produces a genuine sense of concern on their faces and likely in their minds. 

With another goalkeeper falling victim to Ramos’ spot-kick specialty, I figured I’d take a deeper look at Ramos’ prowess from the penalty spot and offer a goalkeeper’s perspective as to why so many professional goalkeepers are having a difficult time turning the Spaniard’s attempts aside.


Clues for Goalkeepers

Before we get into the specifics of Sergio Ramos’ penalties, it’s important to establish what clues goalkeepers look for when dealing with spot-kick situations.

The general consensus is that penalties do not favour a goalkeeper, and that is the case statistically. According to research done by InStat, which looked at nearly 100,000 penalties taken between 2009 and 2018, just over 75% of penalties taken resulted in a goal (75.49%, to be exact). And of the nearly 25% of penalties that weren’t scored, 17.57% of them were saved by the goalkeeper. 

This shouldn’t be too big of a surprise given the science of the penalty kick.

According to a 2014 Business Insider piece, the average penalty travels at a speed of 70 mph or 112 km/h. Combine this with the distance between the penalty spot and the goal (12 yards or 11 metres), and that means on average it takes the ball less than a second to reach the goal from the penalty spot.

Given it takes the goalkeeper about a tenth of a second to process the shot mentally and another tenth of second to initiate muscle movement, the window a goalkeeper has to react to such an attempt in is very small.

Clearly, the odds are not in the goalkeeper’s favour, so they could use all of the help they can get in penalty scenarios.

CREDIT: AP

At the professional level, the first step to identifying a shooter’s penalty preference is actually taken outside of the match and inside of a video room. At the high-end levels of the football pyramid, a goalkeeper will watch tape detailing the penalty habits of opponents.

This is especially true ahead of games that could result in a penalty shootout, such as a knockout tie or a final. Because of the possibility of facing multiple penalty shooters, a goalkeeper will review tens of penalties taken by a variety of shooters in order to prepare for each and every shot. 

It’s also especially true if a goalkeeper’s next opponent is a team known for taking a lot of penalties or one that has a clinical penalty taker. The opponent’s experience in the situation means there’s loads of tape available for the goalkeeper’s research, so the goalkeeper would try to spot patterns in the shooter’s penalties ahead of a potential clash.

This is one of the unseen requirements of being a top-level goalkeeper. These days, professional goalkeepers rarely go into a penalty situation blind. Instead, like a student preparing for a final exam, the goalkeeper will spend a substantial amount of time studying an opposing team’s penalty habits; who takes them, what is their run-up like, which side do they usually shoot at, etc.

Harald “Toni” Schumacher saves a penalty in a 1982 World Cup shootout. Using help from international teammates, he would compile a notebook that contained information detailing the penalty habits of potential opponents. [CREDIT: Getty Images]

Two 21st century Premier League icons — Jens Lehmann and Edwin van der Sar — can attest to the benefit of researching opponents’ penalty habits prior to a match.

In a 2006 World Cup quarter-final, hosts Germany took on Argentina. The two sides fought to a 1-1 draw in regular time, and the score held up after 30 minutes of extra time. With the two nations still tied, a penalty shootout was required.

Lehmann was guarding Germany’s goal that day, and while some goalkeepers would be nervous in the lead up to a shootout, Lehmann was well-prepared. Prior to the match, he and goalkeeper coach Andreas Köpke wrote a list detailing how Argentina’s players like to take their penalties. The list mentioned a number of top Argentine penalty takers, including Roberto Ayala and Maxi Rodríguez — both of whom participated in the shootout.

Lehmann kept the list tucked in his sock, and prior to each shot, he checked the list in order to get a sense of where each Argentine player was going to place his penalty.

The German’s research paid off. Lehmann dove in the correct direction on all four of Argentina’s penalties and saved two of them, including Ayala’s attempt. 

Thanks to Lehmann’s heroics, Germany won the shootout by a 4-2 score, securing a semi-final berth for the second World Cup in a row.

Two years later, Van der Sar used pre-game research to his advantage in the UEFA Champions League Final. 

Following a 1-1 draw in regular time and 30 extra minutes of stalemate football, Van der Sar’s Manchester United and Chelsea were forced to settle things in a penalty shootout. 

Initially, things were not looking good for Van der Sar. The Dutch goalkeeper conceded five of the first six penalties he faced, with the lone exception being John Terry’s penalty, which struck the post opposite the United goalkeeper.

But when Nicolas Anelka approached the spot to take Chelsea’s seventh penalty, Van der Sar knew his time to step up was now. The Dutchman pointed to his left side, dove to his right side and parried Anelka’s attempt away. The save, which came in the sudden death rounds of the shootout, secured Manchester United’s first Champions League title since 1999.

Though at the time the Dutchman’s penalty save seemed to have been born out of mind games and good fortune, Van der Sar revealed years later he had been “studying a lot of Chelsea’s penalties on DVD before the match” and that he was aware of Anelka’s tendency to shoot to the goalkeeper’s right.

“I heard that Chelsea had also done their homework on me and learned that I usually dived to my right, So I think their players were told to shoot to my left, which most of them did [they all did, bar Anelka].” he told FourFourTwo

“I’d anticipated Anelka would shoot to the other side, and thankfully that is what happened.”

Though pre-game research can be beneficial, it can’t prepare a goalkeeper for everything.

For one, some players don’t take penalties too often, which means there’s not much, if any, tape to go off of. This is especially common in penalty shootouts, where a shootout might extend to the fifth round or beyond and players that normally don’t take penalties are asked to step up to the spot. 

Even Lehmann’s meticulous planning and handy note couldn’t prepare him for Esteban Cambiasso’s penalty kick in 2006. Cambiasso, who took the deciding penalty, was not on Lehmann’s list, so the goalkeeper couldn’t fall back on it for the Argentine’s shot.

Having too many penalties to research can be an issue for goalkeepers too. Some players take so many penalties in various different ways that it becomes very difficult to judge what their preferred penalty is. If a player has consistently shown the ability to strike a penalty in a multitude of ways — either side or down the middle, high or low, with power behind the shot or by chipping it, etc. — a goalkeeper will have trouble predicting how the player will strike their penalty beforehand.

Take someone like Cristiano Ronaldo as an example. The Portuguese international — who has scored over 125 penalties (excluding shootouts) in his career — is well-regarded for striking his penalties in a variety of different ways. He can shoot his penalties with power or place them with emphasis on accuracy, he can shoot to the left, right or centre of the goal with ease, and he can lift the ball as high up as he likes.

This makes it difficult for goalkeepers to determine beforehand how and where Ronaldo will strike his penalty, despite all of the tape that exists.

These issues show that goalkeepers can’t overly rely on pre-game research to bail them out of penalty situations. Rather, research should be treated as a supplement to the clues a goalkeeper picks up on during an actual penalty.

These clues aren’t the typical ‘watch the ball to see where it’s going’ stuff that helps goalkeepers make other saves though. As proven earlier, there’s just not enough time for a goalkeeper to stand still, process the flight of a penalty and react accordingly. 

Instead, what a goalkeeper in a penalty situation will do is watch the body of a shooter — from the moment they place the ball down to their approach to their stance — to help them judge which side the player will shoot at.

When a player places the ball down on the spot, their standing foot will usually point in the direction of the side they are going to shoot the ball at. This is usually done subconsciously — the player has a side in mind and his body starts to set their stance and their approach in mind of the preferred side. This could be a useful hint for the goalkeeper if they pick up on it.

Goalkeepers are often advised to watch the shooter’s eyes in this situation too. When the player first places the ball down, they might take a quick peek or two at the side of the goal they want to shoot at. This is potentially another subconscious indicator of the player’s thought process, especially if the glance is quick and generally unnoticeable.

(That said, the eye trick is being exploited a lot by shooters these days. From my experience, I’ve noticed some shooters will hold their glance for a few seconds in an effort to get the goalkeeper thinking they’re going to shoot in a specific direction before slotting the ball to the other side. So to my knowledge, most goalkeepers these days are not advised to put too much credence into the eye trick).

A player’s run-up could also provide some clues to the goalkeeper, such as the angle in which they approach the ball. 

If the player attacks the ball from a very wide stance — over 45 degrees from the centre of the ball — it’s likely they’re going to shoot at the opposite corner (i.e. if they’re approaching the ball from a very wide stance on the goalkeeper’s right side, they’ll likely shoot the ball to the goalkeeper’s left side). This is because it’s difficult for the player to twist their hips and place a shot accurately on the same side as their approach if they’re attacking the ball from a wide angle. 

On the other hand, if a shooter attacks the ball from a narrow angle — less than 45 degrees from the centre of the ball — the player could theoretically strike the ball to either side of the goal without losing too much accuracy. 

Personally,  I’ve found that players that approach their penalties from a narrow angle generally shoot the ball across their body (right-footed kicker shoots to the goalkeeper’s right, left-footed kicker shoots to the goalkeeper’s left). This could be due to the aforementioned information surrounding wide-angled penalties and the fact that the natural swing of the foot is across the body, making it easier to kick the ball across the body as opposed to the opposite side of the goal.

In this example, Atletico Madrid’s Gabi Fernández approaches the penalty from a slightly wide angle.
As a result, the penalty goes to the opposite corner. Valencia’s Diego Alves — an expert penalty saver — understands this and dives to his left, getting down in time to save the attempt.
In this example, Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum approaches the ball from a more central position. He has a decent chance of striking the shot to either side.
From my personal experience, I’ve found that most shooters who approach a penalty from a narrow angle strike it across their body as opposed to the opposite side. In this scenario, that was the case.

Another clue a player’s approach could offer is the speed of the player’s run-up. If a player’s approach is quick, there’s a greater chance of them putting a lot of power into the penalty, as the force generated from the swift approach will carry into the shot.

If the player’s approach is slow or stuttered though, the chance of them taking a high, powerful penalty decreases because the lack of pace in their approach makes it more difficult to generate strong force in the shot. This is especially true for stuttered run-ups, as the speed and awkwardness of the approach prevents the shooter from getting a lot of power into the shot.

This is why these approaches tend to result in low to mid-range shots that are more about beating the goalkeeper with accuracy than with sheer power and speed.

In this example, Portugal’s Nani slowly stutters towards the ball. This results in a low, average-paced shot that Chile’s Claudio Bravo reads and parries away.
In this example, Chelsea’s David Luiz take a long, quick approach. This helps him put a lot of power and height into his penalty.

Finally, as the shooter strikes the ball, some goalkeepers will pay attention to the shooter’s hips. The ball goes where the hips point, so if a goalkeeper can catch where the shooter’s hips are pointed, they can determine where their penalty will be placed.

Some goalkeepers also look at the shooter’s kicking knee. If the inside of their knee is visible as they strike the shot, the ball will likely travel to the opposite side of the goal (i.e. shooting to the goalkeeper’s right side if they’re approaching the ball from the goalkeeper’s left side). But if their knee is pointing inward, it’s likely they’ll swing their leg across their body and thus shoot to the same side as their approach.

It should be noted that these two clues happen in an instant, and it’s generally very difficult for the goalkeeper to process and react to these hints in time to save the penalty. By the time a goalkeeper processes what part of a shooter’s knee they see or in which direction a player’s hips are pointing, the ball is already in motion and the goalkeeper has lost time to react. 

This is why, in my opinion, neither of these two hints are incredibly helpful. Nonetheless, I’ve included them here because they are tips I’ve received throughout my amateur career.

My friend Alberto Ruiz from ARS Goalkeeping shows how these factors result in a penalty being struck to the opposite corner of the shooter’s approach.
In this image, Alberto demonstrates how these specific factors result in a penalty being struck to the same side as the shooter’s approach.

Though these shots are statistically and scientifically difficult for goalkeepers to save, their chance of stopping penalties increases slightly when they take these clues into consideration.


What research says about Ramos’ penalties

Now that we’ve established what goalkeepers look for during penalty situations, let’s take a closer look at what makes Sergio Ramos’ penalties so difficult to stop, starting with the research.

For this piece, I watched every penalty — all 29 of them — Ramos took since the start of the 2017-18 season, which I’ve defined as the beginning of August 2017. I looked at every penalty he took for club and country, in competitive play and friendlies, and during normal time, extra time and shootouts. 

Here are some of the specific patterns I found.

CREDIT: Antonio Villalba / Real Madrid via Getty Images

According to my research, of the 29 penalties Ramos took between Aug. 1, 2017 and now, 15 of them were shot to the right side of the goalkeeper. The other 14 penalties were equally split between the centre and the left side of the goal.

Because Ramos’ run-up is from the goalkeeper’s right side and he strikes the ball with his right foot, that means 15 of the penalties he took over the specified timespan were shot across his body.

Percentage-wise, Ramos shot his penalties to the right side of the goalkeeper 52% of the time, to the left of the goalkeeper 24% of the time, and to the centre part of the goal 24% of the time. 

Here are just some of Ramos’ penalties to the goalkeeper’s right.

Already, we can see that Ramos has a preferred side — to the right of the goalkeeper. But we can learn more about his penalties than just that.

While watching Ramos’ penalties, I also noted how high he likes to shoot them. I broke Ramos’ penalties into four categories; low, medium, high and panenka. (I decided to make panenkas it’s own category under ‘height’ because it was sometimes difficult to tell whether a chip shot was going high or medium).

What I found was that of Ramos’ last 29 penalties, 18 of them — 62.1% of them — were shot low. The other 11 penalties were split 7-3-1, with panenkas being Ramos’ next most favoured penalty attempt and high (regular) shots being his least favoured.

This is clear evidence of Ramos’ preference to keep his penalties as close to the ground as possible. In fact, of Ramos’ last 10 penalty attempts, only two of them — chip shots — were not aimed at the lower part of the opposing team’s goal.

Here are just some of Ramos’ low penalty attempts.

Given Ramos’s preferences to shoot low and to shoot to the goalkeeper’s right, it’s only logical to ask: how many penalties did he shoot low to the right of the goalkeeper?

Luckily for you reading this, that’s also something I tracked while breaking down his penalties. And according to my research, of the 29 penalties Ramos took since the start of the 2017-18 season, he shot 12 of them to the goalkeeper’s bottom-right side. 

To make that clear, that is an astounding 41.4% of all the penalties he took since Aug. 1, 2017 — nearly half of all penalties he attempted. 

For reference, Ramos’ next most preferred techniques were chipping the goalkeeper, which he attempted seven of 29 times, and low shots to the left of the goalkeeper, which he attempted six out 29 times.

Here are some of Ramos’ low-right penalty attempts.

This seems to be a recent adjustment Ramos has made to his penalty technique. I say this because in my research, I found that Ramos only shot one of his first 11 penalties (between Aug. 1, 2017 and today) low to the right of the goalkeeper. At one point, he even went six penalties in a row without shooting to the low-right side of the goalkeeper.

For comparison, nine of Ramos’ last 15 penalties were shot low to the right of the goalkeeper’s position, including his last penalty against FC Barcelona.

What prompted this change? To be honest, I’m not quite sure, though it could’ve been a way for Ramos to divert from his then-traditional technique of shooting the ball to the centre of the goal.

Ramos was not a regular penalty taker leading up to the 2017-18 season. In fact, prior to Aug. 1, 2017, Ramos had only taken five penalties (excluding shootouts) in his entire career. (Note: Ramos made his professional debut in February 2004). 

It turns out, of those five penalties, Ramos shot three of them at the centre of the goal; Sept. 8, 2014 vs Macedonia (which he scored), June 21, 2016 vs. Croatia (which was saved), and Jan. 12, 2017 vs. Sevilla (which he scored). 

Interestingly, those were his last three penalties prior to Aug. 1, 2017.

Granted, Ramos’ first three penalties post-Aug. 1, 2017 were not shot at the centre of the goal. But his fourth — May 9, 2018 vs. Sevilla — was, and this penalty struck the crossbar and rebounded back into play. To date, it’s the only penalty Ramos has failed to convert since Aug. 1, 2017.

Could it be that this miss sparked something in Ramos to change his approach? Maybe. Following the miss, Ramos didn’t shoot either of his next three penalties down the centre of the goal. 

That said, seven of Ramos’ last 22 penalties were scored via a chip, and the vast majority of those penalties were struck towards the centre of the goal. So, it seems likely Ramos is still comfortable shooting penalties at the centre of the goal, but as a result of the miss, it’s no longer his go-to penalty.

Of his last 29 penalties dating back to Aug. 1, 2017, Ramos has shot 12 of them low to the right of the goalkeeper. This includes nine of his last 15 penalties.

Given Ramos’ obvious penalty preference of slotting the ball to the bottom right of the goalkeeper, why is it still so difficult for goalkeepers to stop his penalties? If I — a journalist and amateur goalkeeper — can find this information using nothing more than Transfermarkt and YouTube, surely the video rooms of top professional clubs can find this information out for themselves, right?

Well, who said clubs and goalkeepers don’t already know this information?

In my research, I also tracked how many goalkeepers attempting to stop a Ramos penalty moved to their right side. What I found is that of the last 10 goalkeepers to have faced a Ramos penalty, all but three of them — Eibar’s Marko Dmitrović, Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak and Getafe’s David Soria — dove to their right side, with Dmitrović and Oblak being the only goalkeepers to dive to their left when Ramos shot to their right.

This could be chalked up to coincidence, but given Ramos’ recent tendency to put penalties to the right side of the goalkeeper — remember, nine of his last 15 penalties were shot to the goalkeeper’s right side — I wouldn’t be surprised if the patterns in Ramos’ penalty tendencies were brought to the attention of opposing coaches and goalkeepers by research faculty. In fact, I’d be more surprised if they weren’t caught on by opponents.


Ramos’ tricks

So if research exposes Sergio Ramos’ penalty preferences, how does he continue to get the better of goalkeepers game after game, penalty after penalty?

Though his penalty history does offer insight into his preferences, we must keep in mind that with every penalty it’s the shooter who holds the advantage, not the goalkeeper. They can shape their penalty to be taken however they want (under existing rules), and this covers everything from the approach to the actual shot itself.

So, with that power in his hands, Ramos can use whatever legal penalty-taking tricks he wants to exploit and expose goalkeepers.

These tricks could involve the very research some goalkeepers might hold dearly. Though history shows that Ramos does have a preference when taking penalties, it also shows that it’s not the only weapon in his spot-kick arsenal. 

As mentioned earlier, Ramos is also comfortable chipping the ball from 12 yards out. Nearly a quarter of all of the penalties he’s taken since Aug. 1, 2017, were panenkas, including three of his last 15 penalties.

This includes one of his most recent penalties. On Sept. 26, 2020, Ramos stepped up to the spot and scored a panenka against Real Betis’ Joel Robles. The penalty came in the 82nd minute of a match that was tied 2-2, and Ramos’ penalty held on to be the winner.

If Ramos is confident enough to chip a goalkeeper in the late stages of a deadlocked game, it’s a sign of how comfortable he is diverting away from his most preferred technique and striking his penalty in a different way.

Although his preferred side is the bottom-right corner, Ramos can still get the better of goalkeepers using his arsenal of penalty-taking techniques. For example, he’s confident chipping penalties — seven of his last 29 penalties were panenkas.

Given this, it’s tough for goalkeepers to predict with certainty where Ramos will place his penalty. Yes, the statistics suggest he’s most likely to shoot to a goalkeeper’s bottom-right side, but given Ramos’ comfort chipping the ball (and shooting to a goalkeeper’s bottom-left side), a goalkeeper can’t take Ramos’ wide-range of penalty-taking skills for granted.

Furthermore, Ramos can use his history to get into the head of a goalkeeper. For example, he can draw goalkeepers into thinking he’s going to shoot the penalty to their bottom-right side — after all, that’s what the research suggests — then slot the shot into the bottom-left corner, or humiliate them even more by chipping it over their grounded bodies. 

This is exactly what he did in a European Qualifier last year. On Sept. 5, 2019, Ramos and Spain were taking on Romania. With the score tied at 0-0 approaching the game’s half-hour mark, Spain were awarded a penalty. 

Ramos stepped up to take the penalty, and as he ran up to the ball, he took a look at the goal and focused on the goalkeeper’s right side. He held that look for about a second, but it was enough to get goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu to bite. The Romanian dove to his right side, expecting Ramos to slot the ball to his preferred corner. But Ramos instead shot the penalty to the bottom-left side of Romania’s goal, opposite of Tătăruşanu.

Spain went on to win the game by a 2-1 score, and Ramos’ penalty conversion streak was extended to 14 straight spot-kicks — all thanks to this eye trick.

With the power in his hands, Ramos can use any potential research the goalkeeper had done against them, turning whatever advantage the goalkeeper thought they had into a matter of chaos and doubt.

As Ramos approaches the penalty, he glances at the right side of Romania’s goal.
Tătăruşanu falls for Ramos’ trick. He dives to his right side but Ramos slots the penalty to his left.

But Ramos’ biggest trick isn’t his arsenal of shots or his mind games — it’s his run-up.

At first glance, Ramos’ approach might seem awkward, maybe even pointless. He initially approaches the ball at a slightly fast pace but considerably slows down as he gets closer to the spot. He then takes one or two big, slow steps before striking the penalty.

But while the run-up may seem unimpressive, the fact is that it’s incredibly effective at baiting the goalkeeper into revealing which side they’re going to move towards.

Just like how a goalkeeper is looking for clues in the shooter as to where they’re going to shoot the ball, the shooter is looking for clues in the goalkeeper as to where they’re going to dive, if at all. From a slight twitch to a modest lean, players are reading the goalkeeper to figure out which side of the goal they’re going to commit to.

Fortunately for shooters, goalkeepers tend to be a bit impatient on penalties. This is because, as established earlier, a goalkeeper can’t wait until a shooter’s foot makes contact with the ball to start reacting to a penalty. They have to make their move a split-second earlier, as the shooter is in a shooting motion, in order to give themselves a good head start and boost their chances of saving a well-struck penalty.

This usually isn’t an issue for goalkeepers on normal run-ups. If a player is approaching a penalty at a swift pace, it’s difficult for them to process the goalkeeper’s slightly early movement in time and adjust their shot appropriately without fail. And while a player is more likely to pick up on hints if they’re moving at a slower pace, the goalkeeper is also likely to be able to hold their reaction until the appropriate time.

But on well-executed stuttered run-ups, the goalkeeper is at risk of being baited into moving too early. This is because the goalkeeper is initially trying to mirror their reaction with the fast approach of the taker, but the shooter’s sudden change of pace throws them off, and they might struggle to readjust their body shape and their reaction.

As a result, the goalkeeper might unintentionally reveal the side they’re thinking of moving towards. They might twitch their body in a specific direction, lean towards a certain side or even take a premature step, exposing their side of choice.

In this example, Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski uses a well-executed stutter step to bait Werder Bremen’s Jiří Pavlenka into revealing the direction he’s going to dive in. Note how Pavlenka leans to his right when Lewandowski stutters.

This here is the key reason as to why Ramos is such an excellent penalty taker. By stuttering his approach, Ramos draws the goalkeeper into revealing the side he’s going to move towards. Even if the hint is ever so modest, Ramos is able to pick up on it and, because of his now slow approach, adjust his body in order to shoot away from the goalkeeper.

Because his run-up is choppy and stuttered, goalkeepers have a difficult time standing their ground. And when the goalkeeper reveals their cards too early, Ramos uses his skill to adjust his shot accordingly.

In this example, Ramos’ stutter gets the Russian goalkeeper to leave his line too early. This negatively impacts his body’s balance and allows Ramos to ground him with a strong, right-sided shot.
In this example, Ramos’ stutter baits Jan Oblak into leaning into the direction he’s going to dive in. This allows Ramos to calmly slot the penalty into the opposite side of the goal.
In this example, Ramos’ stutter exposes Yassine Bounou’s intention to dive. This opens the door for Ramos to chip the penalty without fear of the goalkeeper saving it.

Combine all three of these tricks together — his wide-ranging arsenal of different penalty shots, his ability to get into a goalkeeper’s head and his stuttering, decieving run-up — and it’s no surprise Ramos has scored each of his last 25 penalties.


Goalkeeper tips

So, is there anything a goalkeeper can do to boost their chances of saving a Sergio Ramos penalty?

Though I am just an amateur goalkeeper, having spent days researching and writing this piece, I do have a couple pieces of advice for my professional counterparts.

Firstly, wait out Ramos’ approach for as long as possible.

This sounds fairly obvious, but as I showed above, Ramos has a way of getting goalkeepers to expose their thought process. He’s proven capable of baiting goalkeepers into prematurely revealing the side they’re going to dive towards time and time again. 

In these situations, patience is so key for the goalkeeper. By staying set for as long as possible, a goalkeeper will force Ramos into making the first move. Ramos has consistently relied on a goalkeeper’s premature movements to shape his penalty attempts, so by waiting out his approach, a goalkeeper forces Ramos to pick his shot first and gets him to overthink the penalty as opposed to vice-versa.

This is why FC Barcelona’s Neto was able to come so close to stopping Ramos’ penalty in the recent Clasico. By holding his ground for as long as possible, Neto didn’t give Ramos any clues about his thought process. As a result, Ramos couldn’t mould his penalty based on the goalkeeper’s premature movement.

Furthermore, Neto was able to make a concentrated, well-rounded effort to save the penalty, which helped him come close to stopping it.

Neto doesn’t give in to Ramos’ stuttered approach and instead holds his ground until the right moment. This prevents Ramos from relying on premature movements and clues to shape his penalty.
Though Ramos still converts the penalty, Neto is able to make a concentrated, well-rounded effort at saving it. He dives in the correct direction and comes close to turning the penalty aside.

My other advice for professional goalkeepers has to do with the scoreboard.

While researching Ramos’ penalty habits, I also kept track of the kinds of penalties he struck when his side was trailing, tied and ahead. What I found is that Ramos’ preference actually changes depending on the score and how much pressure is on Ramos to convert the penalty.

Ramos took four penalties when his side was losing, and I found that of those four penalties, two of them were shot to the goalkeeper’s right side, which is Ramos’ preferred side. Furthermore, only one of his seven panenka penalties was taken when his team was down. 

On top of that, Ramos took 15 penalties when the game was tied. Of those 15 penalties, Ramos shot eight of them to the goalkeeper’s right side — 53.3% of his spot-kicks.

Finally, Ramos took eight penalties when his team was ahead, and of those eight penalties, only of them was aimed at the goalkeeper’s right side. In fact, Ramos attempted more chip shots (three) when his team was ahead than his preferred penalty to the right side.

All of this is to say that when the situation is tough for his side — they’re trailing or they’re tied — Ramos usually goes with his preferred method of shooting the ball to the right side of the goal. In fact, 10 of the 19 penalties Ramos took when his side was behind or tied — 52.6% of those penalties — were shot to the goalkeeper’s right side.

Furthermore, of those remaining nine shots, four of them — just under half of them — were panenka penalties, which is Ramos’ second preferred penalty shot.

This conclusion is also supported by the fact that both of the penalties Ramos took in a shootout situation (post-Aug. 1, 2017) were struck to the goalkeeper’s right side.

Clearly, when faced with a situation in which he’s under significant pressure to score the penalty (a shootout situation or when his side is trailing or tied), Ramos goes with his preference of shooting to the goalkeeper’s right. So if you’re a goalkeeper facing Ramos in one of these scenarios, chances are Ramos is going to shoot to your right side.

Since Aug. 1, 2017, 12 of the 21 penalties Ramos took in pressure situations (shootouts, tie games and when his team is trailing) were shot to the goalkeeper’s right side. This shows Ramos is more likely to shoot towards his preferred side than not in pressure scenarios. [CREDIT: AS]

More than four years have passed since Danijel Subašić became the first and only professional goalkeeper to deny Sergio Ramos from the penalty spot (excluding shootouts). Since then, Ramos has taken 30 penalties and scored all but one of them. 

It’ll be interesting to see who the next goalkeeper to deny Ramos from the penalty spot will be, though that is if there ever will be another one. Given Ramos’ recent form, you could probably put two goalkeepers in goal and Ramos would still find a way to beat them from the spot.

But even the best slip up eventually, and with more light being shed on Ramos’ penalty preference, technique and streak, I’m certain that another goalkeeper will get the better of the Spaniard eventually. And as a goalkeeper enthusiast, you know I’ll be there to appreciate the moment. (Sorry, Sergio!)


Mouhamad Rachini is a journalist and goalkeeper enthusiast. You can reach him on Twitter via @ThatArabKeeper

One thought on “GK Analysis: A goalkeeper breaks down Sergio Ramos’ penalties.

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