Pep Guardiola, one of the most meticulous and analytical coaches in football, seems to have no answer to a problem afflicting his Manchester City.
The relatively simple task of scoring a penalty.
“It’s a problem,” said a stunned Guardiola after seeing Riyad Mahrez miss from the penalty spot – again – in Borussia Dortmund’s 0-0 draw at home in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Since Guardiola took over City in 2016, the team has missed 25 of 80 penalties in all competitions except the finish. No team in the English Premiership has a worse record in that time.
Nine players have taken penalties in the regulations during that period, with Mahrez and now retired Sergio Aguero the biggest culprits from 11 meters. Agüero scored 20 of his 28 penalties, while Mahrez also has a 71% pass rate on 10 out of 14.
While Mahrez’s latest failure was of little consequence, as City had already advanced to the round of 16, there have been significant failures in recent years.
In the first leg of the 2019 Champions League quarter-final first leg, Aguero was given a penalty by Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to deprive City of a crucial away goal before Spurs won 1-0. City were eliminated on away goals at that stage.
Mahrez fired a penalty over the crossbar in the 86th minute of a 0-0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League in October 2018.
Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan also missed penalties in the competition against Liverpool under Guardiola.
There was one game, against Wolverhampton, in which Raheem Sterling – now with Chelsea – saved a penalty before the referee ordered him to retake it as the goalkeeper was ahead. The second down was also saved, but Sterling scored in the rebound.
“We missed 25 penalties, most of them in the Champions League. That’s too many,” said Guardiola. “I’ve always admired his courage and took the responsibility to do it, but clearly we missed a lot of penalties and that’s a problem.”
“We have to improve, otherwise it’s the small margins that can make the difference.”
And Guardiola knows the pain of failure in the Champions League very well.
While in Barcelona, Guardiola saw Lionel Messi hit a penalty in the second leg semi-final against Chelsea in 2012. The Spanish team eventually conceded a goal at the last minute and were eliminated.
While in charge of Bayern Munich, in 2016 Guardiola saw Thomas Mueller save a penalty against Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals and his team were eliminated under the away goal rule.
The problem in City could be that the task of punishment is divided among many.
In recent games, City’s new striker, the prolific Erling Haaland, has taken penalties, scoring two out of two so far this season. But Haaland was not on the pitch when City were awarded the penalty against Dortmund.