I watched every single Aleksandar Mitrović penalty…

(so you don’t have too, but you can if you like because they are all embedded below)

This article considers whether Aleksandar Mitrović is good at penalties, and therefore if he should continue to be the penalty taker for Fulham.

In researching this post, I have looked at every penalty taken by Mitrović since he started playing for Newcastle in 2016 (and a couple before as well). I will summarise key points up top, but I have discussed the penalties in more detail in the article if you want to know about them. There are also video links of the penalties embedded through the article, if you want to see any of them for yourself!

There were some penalties before 2016 from Mitrović’s time at Anderlecht and FK Partizan, but data on this time is a little spotty, so I have used penalties since he joined Newcastle for the main stats in this article.

Key Statistics and Overview

Mitrović does not have a great career penalty conversion record. He scored 19 of 28 penalties since 2016 (68% conversion). However, this record has improved over time and at present he is on a run of 9 out the last 11 penalties scored (82% conversion in that run, including the one just missed against Southampton).

For comparison, over the last 3 seasons (excluding Mitro), premier league players have scored 212 out of 260 penalties, an 81.5% conversion rate. If Mitro converted at this ‘average’ rate throughout his career, he would have scored an extra 4 penalties (roughly 23 out of 28).

Of more concern, is that goalkeepers seem to be able to read Mitro’s penalty placement, diving the correct direction on 19 of the 28 penalties since 2016 (68% again). Goalkeeping data expert and Head of Data Science at Goalkeeper.com, John Harrison (@jhdharrison1 on Twitter) told me that goalkeepers typically dive the right way around 40% of the time, so Mitro is clearly an outlier in this regard.

Shot Placement

The image below shows the position of each of the 30 Mitrović penalties I watched in researching this post. The number on the ball is a reference number for the shot, you can read more about each individual shot, and watch video of each penalty by looking up the reference number in the article below.

Green balls indicate goals, blue balls were saved and red balls were missed

This shows that Mitro tends to shoot to either the bottom left or right of the goal. On only 4 occasions (13%) has he shot into the top half of the goal and on 2 of those occasions he put the ball over the bar (including an attempted Panenka, see shot 7 below).

My analysis suggests that in these 30 penalties, Mitro aimed left 16 times (53%), right 12 times (40%) and centre twice (7%).

He scored 11/16 times shooting left (69%) and 8/12 shooting right (66%), he missed (high) both times he aimed at the centre.

Green balls indicate goals, blue balls were saved and red balls were missed

How could Mitro Improve?

Mitro’s recent penalty conversion rate (scored 8 out of last 10 penalties) is pretty good. But his career conversion rate is less impressive and to the naked eye, his penalties do look quite stoppable.

It seems to me that Mitro’s main issue is that goalkeepers are highly successful in determining where the big man will put his penalty kicks. The fact that they dive in the right direction nearly 70% of the time means he is being read at nearly double the rate of an average penalty kick taker. There are a couple of things Mitro might do to mitigate this issue.

More variety in shot placement. At the moment every penalty pretty much goes bottom left or bottom right (see image above). Not only does this mean that, even without reading Mitro, a keeper can guess the correct way 50% of the time, but it must make him easier to read anyway. If there are only two options, then any ‘tell’ that Mitro has must be more revealing.

Mitro has tried to go down the middle a couple of times in his career, and both of them he has put his shot over the bar, so perhaps this makes him nervous to try again. Also, because Mitro shoots with power, a slow goalkeeper may still be close to the middle of the goal by the time the ball gets there!

However, I believe that if Mitro can add the occasional shot to the top corners to the repertoire, it will make goalkeepers hesitant to get low quickly. This would make Mitros powerful low shots much harder to save.

Change the rhythm of the run up. Mitro mostly just runs up to the ball and hits it, which makes his moment of contact with the ball easy to read, and therefore allows the goalkeeper to perfectly time their dive to the moment of contact.

Changing the pace of the run-up, adding an occasional stutter step, but importantly continually mixing it up, means the goalkeeper will find it harder to read the exact moment of contact. Even the slightest delay in the goalkeepers dive makes those powerful shots much harder to save.

Such an approach also gives the goalkeeper a second thing to think about, not just where the ball will go but when it will be hit, making predicting the shot location that much harder.

Other Penalty Takers at Fulham

If it were determined that Mitro should not take penalties, then do Fulham have any other candidates to take them?

Well, there are a few good options…

  • Firstly there is Willian, according to FBREF, Willian has taken 8 penalties in his career, scoring 7. Notably Willian became the main spotkick taker at Chelsea during his final season with them, which is when most of his penalties occurred.
  • There is also Bobby Decordova-Reid. BDR has a perfect 6 out of 6 professional penalty taking record, although they are mostly in the Championship.
  • Finally there is Andreas Pereira who seems to be the deputy penalty taker (as he took the penalty against Man City with Mitro injured). However, this is the only penalty he has taken in his pro career, but he did at least score it. The fact that he took the penalty with Willian on the pitch (but not BDR) suggests he is highly regarded from the spot.
  • Other than the above its worth noting that Carlos Vinicius has 3 career penalties (all scored) and both Tom Cairney and Harry Wilson have taken 3 each (scoring 2).

What Should Fulham do? (My opinion)

I personally would like Mitro to continue being the clubs penalty taker. I think he thrives on confidence and having the penalties to keep his goal tally ticking over probably helps his overall game.

Of course, missing penalties can have the opposite effect, I think Mitro’s penalty misses against Sheffield United and Scotland were a big driver in his loss of form / confidence during the Scott Parker Premier League season.

If Mitro can continue to convert 70% (or higher) of his penalties, which is well below average for the Premier League, then I think the occasional miss is a price worth paying for a Mitro who is scoring regularly. In practice we may miss out on a goal every couple of seasons or so, versus having an elite spotkick taker, but I suspect the benefits of having Mitro scoring regularly more than outweigh this.

Mitro’s penalties, a history!

What now follows is a discussion of all Mitro’s penalties to date! There is embedded video so you can watch them all for yourself if you desire….

Before Newcastle

Penalty 1 (vs Olympiakos): Saved. This is the first example I can find of Mitro taking a penalty in first team football. Its in the Champions League and Mitro is playing for Anderlecht, on route to losing 3-0 to Olympiakos (courtesy of a hat-trick from a certain Kostas Mitroglou, who was months away from an ill-fated transfer to Fulham at the time).

The excellent FBREF.com lists Mitro as taking 2 further penalties for Anderlecht, and scoring both. But I can find youtube footage of him missing other penalties in this era, so I guess this data is not reliable.

Penalty 2 (vs Genk). Hit Post. One of the few I can find footage of from this time is below, a hit post against Genk.

You may notice from the two links above, that both penalty misses feature a similar technique to that which we know today, shot with power to a bottom corner, although he uses a slightly stuttering run up in these.

At Newcastle

Mitro took 3 penalties for Newcastle, scoring 2 of them. Data from this period is much more reliable for me, so these will now count towards the penalty stats I have compiled for this article.

Penalty 3 (vs Man United). Goal. This was in a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford. A slightly different technique on show here, Mitro passes the ball to the right of the goal, not particularly close to the post, with De Gea diving to the left. This is one of the few examples where it looks like Mitro has sent the keeper the wrong way!

Penalty 4 (vs Norwich). Goal. Next Mitro scores a pressure equaliser against Norwich in a relegation battle game (they would go on to lose despite a Mitro brace). Mitro goes right with power, and the keeper guesses the right way but cannot keep the shot out as its right in the bottom corner. You can see this below:

Penalty 5 (vs Oxford United). Saved. Finally with Newcastle we have a miss, which happens in a 0-3 FA Cup defeat to Oxford United. This is against Simon Eastwood, notable only because Mitro would later take penalties against keepers with the surname Southwood and Westwood… (credit to @kingscrossed on Twitter for spotting that). This is a shot to the bottom left, which is read and saved by Eastwood.

Penalties for Serbia (a Panenka worse than Lookman’s?)…

By 2018, Mitro was at Fulham, but he didn’t take any pens for the Whites that year, he did however, take a pair of penalties for Serbia in two Nations League matches against Montenegro.

Penalty 6 (vs Montenegro). Goal. These are quite hard to find footage of but the first is below (scroll to 60 seconds in for the pen). Mitro shoots low and left, with the keeper going the wrong way.

Penalty 7 (vs Montenegro). Missed Panenka! The next is rather interesting, leading 2-0 at the time, Mitro goes for a Panenka, but he forgets to take the power off the shot so launches it over the bar. Scroll to 45 seconds to see it in the video below.

The Fulham era

Penalty 8 (vs Oldham). Saved. Mitro had been at Fulham about a year before he got to take his first penalty. It was quite an infamous occasion, Fulham were struggling in the premier league and faced league two Oldham in the FA Cup. The game was not going well, but with the score at 1-1, Fulham were awarded the softest of penalties. Mitro was subbed into the game, specifically to take the penalty, he went slightly right of centre at waist height with power and it was saved. Fulham would go on to lose the game compounding the misery around the club at the time.

At this point in his career, Mitro’s penalty record was pretty terrible. Since playing in England he had a record of 3 out of 6 at this point, and my best guess is that he was 3 from 5 before joining Newcastle, so converting at roughly 50%. However, he would now go on a run of scoring 7 from the next 8 which would improve his stats somewhat.

Penalty 9 (vs Bournemouth). Goal. Fulham are already relegated from the Premier League and Scot Parker is caretaker boss. This game was part of a 3 game winning streak that would contribute to Parker getting the job on a permanent basis. The one goal in the game was this penalty, scored low to the left with the keeper going the wrong way.

Penalty 10 (vs Millwall). Goal. From the night of (nearly) a thousand passes at Craven Cottage and the 4-0 win against Millwall. This was quite a low pressure pen, with Fulham already 3 up and in complete control. This was a notable penalty for being fired into the roof of the net (shot to the left).

Penalty 11 (vs Leeds). Goal (just). The next penalty came with much more pressure as Fulham were gifted a very soft penalty early in the game against high-flying Leeds. Mitro went low and left, and Casilla reads it, getting a big hand on it, only for the ball to go in off the post.

Penalty 12 (vs Swansea). Saved. This is the game which Mitro would eventually win with a spectacular header deep into injury time. However, before that, he had a penalty saved. It featured a new technique, a stuttering run up! But the penalty that follow was poor, waist height, just left of centre and was quite easily saved.

Penalty 13 (vs Cardiff). Goal. As the pandemic delayed the close of the 19/20 season, Fulham faced Cardiff at the cottage. Mitro won a pen and put it (checks notes…) top bins to the right hand side! Probably Mitro’s most unstoppable penalty out of all of these!

Penalty 14 (vs Sheff Weds). Goal. An 8 goal thriller with Sheffield Wednesday, and one of them was a Mitro penalty. On this one, Mitro slips as he shoots, and the resulting penalty is pretty poor, but the keeper dives the wrong way so it goes in!

Penalty 15 (vs Leeds). Goal. Back in the premier league, and Fulham lose 4-3 to fellow promoted club Leeds. Its not a great penalty, Mitro goes low and left, and the shot is pretty close to the centre. Indeed this may help because the ball squeezes under the dive of Meslier in the Leeds goal.

Penalty 16 (vs Turkey). Goal. Another goal for Serbia here with Mitro sending the Turkish keeper the wrong way.

Penalty 17 (vs Sheffield United). Missed. This is the start of a particularly difficult time for Mitro. Fulham were struggling again in the premier league this was an early relegation 6 pointer. Mitro got a penalty at 0-0 and hit the bar. He would later miss a great chance from a header and then concede a penalty himself, from which the Blades would equalise. For me this started a dip in confidence and form, exacerbated by the next penalty and culminating in Parker dropping him from the first XI.

Penalty 18 (vs Scotland). Saved. A painful moment for Mitro, a decent penalty goes to the bottom right corner, but its saved as Serbia are knocked out of European Championship qualifying.

Penalty 19 (vs Stoke). Saved. Nearly a year passes from the Scotland game…Fulham are back in the Championship and Marco Silva is manager, things are starting to look up, Mitro is scoring goals again. But this penalty is quite like the Scotland one, low to the right, and again it is read and saved by the keeper.

Penalty 20 (vs Birmingham). Goal. After 3 straight misses, Mitro converts a penalty! Low to the bottom left corner in a 4-1 away win.

Penalty 21 (vs Nott’m Forest). Goal. At this point a new style is really emerging, Mitro has a long run up and he hits the ball with power to a bottom corner. This time its to the left, keeper goes the right way but cant keep it out.

Penalty 22 (vs West Brom). Goal. At the time this felt like a potential title decider and it was a big 3-0 win with a Mitro hat-trick. The first goal was a penalty, and Mitro goes to the very bottom right, the keeper goes the right way, but cant get to it. Again the technique is becoming established, a straight run up, high power, bottom corner.

Penalty 23 (vs Reading). Goal. Same technique, and this time the very bottom left corner, keeper goes the right way but cant reach the ball.

Penalty 24 (vs Peterborough). Goal. This penalty was to break the Championship goal scoring record (previously held by Ivan Toney), although it was only in February. The same technique is on show, but the keeper goes the wrong way and there is more elevation on the shot.

Penalty 25 (vs QPR). Goal. To seal a derby day victory, Mitro goes bottom left with power and scores. This was the last penalty of the championship season, which would see Mitro develop a clear shooting style and score 7 out of 8 penalties that season (7 in a row as he missed the first).

Penalty 26 (vs Liverpool). Goal. Opening day in the Premier League and Mitro wins and converts the penalty, his 8th successful spotkick in succession. Its bottom right, and Allison goes the right way but cannot reach it.

Penalty 27 (vs Wolves). Saved. With the game goalless in the final minutes, Mitro has a chance to win it for Fulham, he goes low and left, he does not find the bottom corner and Sa saves.

Penalty 28 (vs Bournemouth). Goal. A slight change to the penalty taking formula for Mitro here, a bit of a stutter step in the run up, with the goalkeeper diving left, Mitro rolls the ball to the right!

Penalty 29 (vs Aston Villa). Goal (just). Mitro seems to attempt the same penalty as he did against Bournemouth (minus the stutter step) and soon to be world cup penalty shoot out hero Martinez goes the right way, but the ball some how squeezes under him into the net!

Penalty 30 (vs Southampton). Saved. This penalty miss didnt cost points (we won anyway), but did reopen the discussion on social media about whether Mitro should be on penalties. Its worth noting that Mitro had scored 9 of the previous 10 before this, and this is not a bad penalty.

Thanks for reading to the end. I hope you found this interesting!

Many thanks to John Harrison of Goalkeeper.com for his input on the frequency with which Goalkeepers dive the right way on penalties.

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