Mohamed Salah has missed his last two penalties for Liverpool. There’s never a great time to miss one, but it hasn’t helped that they’ve both come in games Liverpool haven’t won – defeat against Bournemouth and a pulsating 2-2 draw to Arsenal. But should Liverpool really be thinking about swapping him out?
Recency bias is a well-documented phenomenon. It’s the tendency – in all walks of life – to overweight recent events or trends and ignore long-term evidence. Given how outcome-driven the world of sports is, it’s an industry that is particularly susceptible of falling into this trap.
So, while it’s an indisputable fact Mohamed Salah has missed his last two penalties for Liverpool, the fact that they’ve been back-to-back misses, and have come in the midst of a down year for the Reds can compound how “bad” the situation really is.
Since arriving on Merseyside, Salah has scored 24 of the 29 penalties he’s taken in all competitions for Liverpool, for an average conversion rate of 82.8%. He actually missed the first one he ever took for the club, against Huddersfield Town in October 2017, but quickly shrugged off that miss to rattle off 17 in a row in all competitions – including a high-pressure penalty in the final of the Champions League against Tottenham.
His most recent miss before the Bournemouth game came in another match Liverpool went on to lose (vs. Leicester in December 2021), but Salah had scored game-winning penalties in his two attempts prior to that game (against Aston Villa and Atletico Madrid), while he scored three consecutive penalties in 2020-21 (vs. Fulham, Man City and Chelsea) in matches Liverpool were losing and his penalty brought them level. He’s long been the club’s reliable spot-kick taker.
But just how good is a penalty conversion rate of 82.8%?
Well, for starters, it’s better than the average in each of the top five leagues this season:
But ‘above average’ feels like a fairly low threshold to meet. It’s great and all, but ideally we want our penalty takers to be elite.
So how does Salah’s record stack up with the best of the best over the last decade?
Since the start of the 2010-11 season, 349 players have taken 10 or more penalties across the top 6 European leagues, the Championship and major cup competitions (FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League). At one point or another, these players were ‘regular’ penalty takers.
Across that timeframe, those 349 players took 6,868 spot-kicks and converted 5,567 of them for a conversion rate of 81.1%. That’s lower than Salah’s average of 82.8%. That’s a good start.
And over that period of time, the Egyptian has a better record than the likes of Ciro Immobile (53/65 – 81.5%), Kylian Mbappe (16/20 – 80%), Lionel Messi (69/87 – 79.3%), Sergio Aguero (49/62 – 79.0%), Frank Lampard (29/37 – 78.4%) and even dead-ball specialist James Ward-Prowse (14/19 – 73.7%).
Now, there are of course players with better records than Salah.
Given the volume of penalties he’s taken since 2010-11, Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 103 from 120 (85.8%) is exceptional. Similarly, Harry Kane’s 41 from 48 (85.4%) is excellent.
There are those who have mastered the stuttered run up. Ivan Toney (23/24 – 95.8%), Jorginho (35/40, 87.5%) and Bruno Fernandes (39/43 – 90.7%) each have brilliant records.
But that’s fine – those are exceptional records from penalty specialists. When compared to the wider footballing world, Salah’s record from the spot stacks up respectably. All the while, he’s been scoring buckets full of goals and is now Liverpool’s all-time Premier League scorer. For the most part, you’d be very happy as him being your primary penalty taker.
All this talk about removing him from penalty-taking duties might seem overblown then and that Jürgen Klopp’s hints that it’s “something he’ll talk about” with Salah – although we appreciate that’s just one line from a press conference – as unneeded.
But once you get further down the list of penalty takers, two names jump off the page.
Fabinho: 23 penalties taken. 22 penalties scored. 95.7%.
James Milner: 23 penalties taken. 21 penalties scored. 91.3%.
Both are in Klopp’s squad. Both have outstanding penalty records.
Virgil van Dijk even said last year on Gary Neville’s The Overlap that if someone had to take a penalty to save his life, he’d pick Milner.
Players miss penalties. Harry Kane and Ivan Toney have done so recently. But Fabinho and Milner have proven over a decent sample size that they miss them a whole lot less than others.
Given Milner’s limited game time, you’d have thought Fabinho would be the next man up. Maybe it is time to make the change – not because Salah’s record is bad – but because the Brazilian’s is extraordinary.