The spate of penalty awards in the opening three Gameweeks of the 2020/21 campaign has not just had a seismic effect on the Premier League, it has also started to influence thinking in the Fantasy world.
Four of Jamie Vardy‘s (£10.0m) five strikes this season have come from 12 yards, for instance, while 17.5% of all goals scored in the English top flight have been spot-kicks.
So how much attention do we Fantasy managers pay to those on penalty-taking duties and what effect might this week’s developments have?
We will run down the most asked questions in our article below.
HOW DOES THE CURRENT RATE OF PENALTIES COMPARE WITH PREVIOUS SEASONS?
There have been 20 penalties given in the Premier League so far this season – as many as we witnessed in the opening nine Gameweeks of 2019/20.
Unsurprisingly, that average of 0.71 penalties per match is much higher than we’ve seen in any other Premier League season.
Six of those 20 spot-kick awards were for handballs and it’s this particular type of offence that has been causing consternation in the footballing world over the last month.
We only saw a half-dozen handball offences penalised with penalties in the whole of 2017/18, to provide some context, and we’d be on course for a ludicrous 81 spot-kicks in 2020/21 for handball alone if they were to continue being awarded at the current rate.
Part of the reason for the early-season spike has been the Premier League’s adoption of the International Football Association Board’s (IFAB) stricter handball law.
This isn’t a new rule as such, as it has been in operation on the continent and in international football for some time, but the Premier League had been put under pressure ahead of this season to toe the party line.
The introduction of VAR has generally led to even more handballs being penalised, with the video assistants able to spot offences that an on-field official might have missed.
ESPN’s Dale Johnson has done some excellent work on this, highlighting how the combination of the IFAB’s interpretation of handball and the rolling out of VAR (which became widespread after the 2018 World Cup) affected the penalty statistics – the 2019/20 Bundesliga campaign being something of an anomaly:
*calculated to 380 games for comparison
WHAT DEVELOPMENTS HAVE THERE BEEN THIS WEEK?
An exclusive report from The Athletic’s David Ornstein and Matt Slater this week has revealed that we could see greater leniency being shown in handball decisions from as soon as this weekend.
An agreement was struck at a Premier League meeting on Tuesday to allow referees to apply “greater subjectivity within the existing rules”, even if they don’t have the power to alter IFAB’s law itself.
Ornstein and Slater report that “proximity and arm position are the key factors in the change” but it should be noted that anything that hits a hand above head-height would still be a penalty.
So the controversial decision against Eric Dier (£5.0m) would still have stood but, as Johnson outlines below, half of the six penalties that came about through handball might not have been given – although “subjectivity” is a key word above.
So, we might see a reduction in the frequency of penalties given for handball but still enough for the total number of spot-kicks to increase on previous campaigns.
WHICH TEAMS ARE MOST LIKELY TO WIN PENALTIES?
The million-dollar question – and one that unfortunately doesn’t come with a convincing answer.
Far greater minds than ours have attempted to solve that riddle using different factors, with mixed results.
One would assume that penalty box touches and fouls won would be a decent barometer but Simon from Analytic FPL crunched the numbers recently, coming to the conclusion that, while there was some significance, spot-kicks were “mostly random”.
Certain players and teams do seem to be more predisposed to win penalties (Manchester United have been top for spot-kick awards in each of the last two years) but figures veer wildly from season to season.
Crystal Palace (in no small part thanks to Wilfried Zaha (£7.2m)) hit double figures for penalty awards in 2017/18 and 2018/19 but that figure fell to three last season.
Manchester City are a team we might expect to win a lot of spot-kicks given their pace and possession and they did indeed get 11 of them in 2019/20.
Only four were forthcoming in the season before that, however.
WHO TAKES PENALTIES FOR THEIR CLUBS?
A total of 14 players from 13 different clubs have already taken penalties this season but not all of them are first in line at their respective clubs.
Youri Tielemans (£6.4m) took Leicester City’s fifth spot-kick of 2020/21 with Vardy off the field, while Richarlison (£8.0m) was given the nod in Gameweek 3 with last season’s spot-kick taker Gylfi Sigurdsson (£6.9m) not on the pitch.
John Lundstram (£5.4m) and Wilfried Zaha (£7.2m) also both benefitted from teammates either being unavailable or benched.
Oliver Norwood (£4.9m), Billy Sharp (£5.9m) and David McGoldrick (£5.4m), all of whom have taken penalties in the previous two seasons, weren’t involved when Lundstram missed from 12 yards against Aston Villa, while Luka Milivojevic (£5.9m) and Patrick van Aanholt (£5.4m) were similarly not on the pitch when Zaha scored against Manchester United – and even then, Jordan Ayew (£5.9m) had the first stab.
There is a degree of uncertainty amongst a few clubs, particularly those where new signings could have a say.
With Willian (£8.0m) and Ross Barkley (£5.9m) departing for pastures new and Jorginho (£5.1m) not guaranteed to be playing every week, who is next in line for Chelsea?
Kai Havertz (£8.4m), Hakim Ziyech (£7.9m) and Timo Werner (£9.4m) had all taken spot-kicks for club and/or country before their summer moves, while Tammy Abraham (£7.3m) had been a regular for Aston Villa in the Championship and had stepped up in pre-season ahead of 2019/20 – for what that is worth.
The three players who were responsible for all seven of West Brom’s penalties in the Championship last season are no longer regulars, while Mark Noble (£4.9m) being the sacrificial lamb when West Ham moved to a 3-4-3 has also opened up a void from 12 yards in east London. Michail Antonio (£6.3m) assumed responsibility towards the end of 2019/20 when he was reportedly chasing a 10-goal bonus but Tomas Soucek (£5.0m) was a regular taker for Slavia Prague before his move to England.
Wesley‘s (£6.0m) injury and Anwar El Ghazi‘s (£5.9m) recent omissions leaves a window of opportunity at Aston Villa, too, with Jack Grealish (£7.0m) potentially next in line despite missing from the spot in 2019/20.
As ever, the list above and on our Set Pieces tab is an evolving one and will be refreshed throughout the campaign.
What Threat Do the Penalty Takers Offer From Elsewhere?
While Fantasy managers may stop short of building a “pen-plate” FPL squad consisting purely of spot-kick takers, being first in line from 12 yards doesn’t do any harm.
Ideally, though, we’d like our penalty-takers to also offer threat from elsewhere.
The table below looks at expected goals (xG) without penalties and expected assist (xA) statistics from 2019/20, excluding bit-part players and levelling the playing field by calculating all numbers “per 90 minutes”.
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