Due to the fact that soccer is a low scoring game, a penalty kick can often be the difference between winning and losing. Penalties are incredibly valuable to soccer teams, but are they just as important for betting purposes? Can bettors use data to determine the value of a penalty? Read on to find out.
What is a penalty?
Before delving into the complexities of a penalty kick, some readers may require an explanation of what a penalty in soccer actually entails; "A penalty kick is awarded when a player commits a direct free kick offence [foul, handball etc.] inside their penalty area."
After a penalty kick has been awarded, a player from the attacking side then takes a shot from the penalty spot - positioned 12 yards from the centre of the goal. Once the ball is kicked, if it comes back into play via a save or the frame of the goal, the game resumes as normal (except for the player taking the penalty who cannot be the first to touch the ball - a rebound can be scored or the ball can be cleared).
How often is a penalty awarded in soccer?
In order to determine how a penalty kick can impact soccer betting, the first step is to work out how regularly a penalty kick situation occurs. Of course, not all competitions are the same in soccer so the number of penalties per season can differ depending on the league.
Players who use a mixed strategy with no clear pattern generally have an above average penalty conversion rate.
As well as looking at how frequently penalties are awarded in soccer, it is also important to analyse the rate at which they are converted. Although a free shot from 12 yards is a good scoring opportunity, penalties are missed more often than you might think.
Using data collated by @PenaltyKickStat, the table below highlights how often a penalty is awarded in each of the top five European soccer leagues and the average conversion rate in each of those leagues over the last three seasons:
Which teams benefit from penalties the most?
Soccer teams don’t win penalties at the same rate that they concede them, so knowing which teams win more penalties than they concede could be beneficial to soccer bettors. The table below shows the top 10 teams with the best for/against penalty awarded ratio in the top five European soccer leagues:
Which teams benefit from penalties the most?
Advanced penalty kick strategy
Although it is difficult for bettors to predict if and when a penalty will be awarded, calculating the probability of a player scoring or the goalkeeper saving a penalty is much easier.
By applying game theory to a penalty kick situation, bettors can begin to understand the maths behind scoring or missing a penalty. The player kicking the ball for a penalty must devise a strategy that makes it difficult for the goalkeeper to predict where the ball will go - a “mixed strategy”.
One notable difference between a penalty taken in normal time and one taken during a shootout is the average conversion rate drops from 75.8% to 70%.
The foot that a player favours when striking the ball will determine which is their “stronger side” to place a penalty (right footers naturally strike the ball across their body to the left and vice versa). In order for optimal success, the penalty taker’s choice should be completely random - Game Theory suggests they will choose their “stronger side” 61.5% of the time.
This is why players who use a mixed strategy with no clear pattern (current Premier League examples include Yaya Touré, Harry Kane and Mark Noble) have an above average penalty conversion rate - these players score over 85% of their penalties compared to the league average conversion rate of 80%).
Despite the fact that Game Theory can be used to analyse a penalty in more detail, it does have its limitations. This approach doesn’t take into account the option to shoot down the middle or the modern technique of waiting for the goalkeeper to dive before taking the kick - a strategy commonly used by Eden Hazard, Christian Benteke and Mario Balotelli.
A penalty kick vs. a penalty shootout
In addition to a standard penalty kick in a soccer match, penalties are taken in another form - a penalty shootout. Penalties in this format affect soccer betting to a much lesser extent than the ones taken within the 90 minutes of a match (those who frequently bet on outright competition markets or ‘to qualify’ markets may disagree).
It is still interesting to look at the differences between a penalty taken in normal time and penalties taken during a shootout. One notable difference is that the average conversion rate of 75.8% (using the data above) drops to around 70% during a penalty shootout.
The reasons for a lower conversion rate include inexperienced penalty takers being forced into taking one, a lack of randomness in shooting direction (making it easier for the goalkeeper to save) and of course, the added pressure that comes with taking a penalty in a knockout competition.
Interesting penalty stats
The data provided can help bettors understand how valuable a penalty kick is in terms of soccer betting but attributing a value to penalties in terms of points won and lost over the course of a season could prove to be even more beneficial.
Here are some statistics that aren’t necessarily useful for betting purposes but are still interesting nonetheless;
- Yaya Toure is the best penalty taker still actively playing soccer in the top five leagues in European soccer (100% conversion rate from 15 penalties).
- Matt Le Tissier has the best penalty success rate for anyone who has 20+ penalties in their career - scoring 48/49 (98%).
- Martin Palermo once missed three penalties in one game (Argentina vs. Colombia, 1999) - the most by one player in a single match.
- Diego Alves has the best record for saving penalties in the top five leagues of European soccer - stopping 23/49 (47%).
- Jean-Francois Gillet saved three penalties in a single game for Mechelen vs. Anderlecht (October 2015). Cammy Bell repeated this feat for Dundee United vs. Dunfermline in September 2016.
- The record for the most penalties awarded in a single 90-minute match is five - Crystal Palace vs. Brighton & Hove Albion in 1989.
- Mohamed Jedidi holds the record for the most re-taken penalty in a match - he took the same penalty six times due to various rule infringements (2004 Olympics, Tunisia vs. Montenegro).
Follow @PenaltyKickStat on Twitter for more information and insight into penalty kicks in soccer.
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