Manchester United in Penalty Shoot-outs: Luck or Skill?

Stefan VasilevAnalyst IAugust 13, 2008

On Sunday Manchester won the Community Shield beating Portsmouth on penalties 3-1. After claiming victory in the penalty shoot-out like the dramatic win over Chelsea in last year’s Champions League final, the devils were labelled as “lucky."

Although I am an Arsenal fan, I think such a statement is a little premature so I decided to analyse the penalty-taking attributes of Manchester United players and leave it to yourselves to judge if it is luck or not.

The truth is that the win over Portsmouth was their third successful final which they have won, by means of penalty shoot-out, in the past two years.

So what makes Sir Alex Ferguson’s “boys” so successful when it comes to taking shots from the spot?

There are some major factors which could dramatically increase the chances of any team to win on penalties.

The first one and most obvious one is the goalkeeper. Indisputably, he is the main character when the match reaches this stage. A tall keeper with good positioning skills can greatly influence the chances for success. Do Manchester United have this?

Well, only mentioning the name would be enough: Edwin van der Sar. In addition to being tall, 1.97m to be exact, he has tons of experience and is not easily intimidated by the penalty taker. His agility is always top level.

The second factor is the experience of the players. Young players tend to make mistakes when it comes to taking decisions in important moments whereas older players keep their calm and  are able to make more adequate decisions.

United have that also in the faces of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Owen Hargreaves. All of them have the needed experience to keep cool under pressure.

Another stimulus for a penalty shoot-out victory is psychology. A psychological game is constantly played between the goalkeeper and the penalty taker during the taking of the penalty. A strong mind will be less influenced by the psychological attacks of either goalkeeper or penalty taker.

The Red Devils have shown in the past that they are a determined lot and they never stop fighting until the end of the game.

So in my mind, Manchester United could not be called lucky to win on penalties. They have all the ingredients to “improve their luck” and win on a penalty shoot-out.