It’s long been suggested that some clubs receive preferential treatment regarding penalty decisions. Over the past few decades, clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United have both been accused of using their influence to earn more favourable calls from the referee, all to the detriment of less glamorous clubs.
But how true are such conclusions, and even if said clubs are awarded more penalties than most, are they able to successfully convert them with regularity? To find out, we have compiled data from the Premier League and the wider football world to discover which teams are clinical from the spot and which give the most away – often costing their sides dearly in the process.
Premier League Teams Who Scored The Most
Penalties don’t necessarily guarantee goals, just as goals don’t necessarily guarantee success. However, as the history of the Premier League shows, there is a clear and obvious relationship between the number of goals a team scores and the number of penalties they are awarded.
Over the nearly 30-year span of the Premier League (from September 1992 to the modern day), we’ve seen how the biggest and most successful clubs have rather predictably scored the most penalties. The top five penalty scorers are Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool – with the Merseyside club topping the list. Since 1992, Liverpool have scored 172 spot-kicks, three more than Manchester United in the same time period. The two most successful clubs in English football history are way ahead of third-placed Chelsea, who sit on 157.
What’s curious to note, however, is that Liverpool hasn’t been at the very top of the charts for penalties awarded in recent years – despite their obvious success. On the contrary, last season, they were joint-third with nine awarded in their favour, while the season before that (2020-21), Jurgen Klopp’s men only won six to Leicester City’s season-high of 12. This arguably discredits the widely held belief among some rival fans that Liverpool receives an unusually high number of spot kicks – with some labelling them as ‘LiVARpool’.
At the opposite end of the scale, we see how some sides have perennially struggled to both score and earn penalties in their favour. In fact, we can map a correlation between an inability to win penalties to an increased likelihood that a side will be relegated from the Premier League at the end of that season. For instance, in 21/22, Watford and Burnley earned two penalties each in their favour and were subsequently relegated to The Championship at the end of the campaign.
Burnley are something of an anomaly when it comes to penalties. In the 2017-18 season, they became the first side for six years to fail to win a penalty for the entire EPL campaign, going on to earn just two the following season. Some will chalk this up to their style of play, which relies heavily on long-balls and physicality, rather than skilful, pacey attackers who might be more adept at winning fouls inside the opposition box.
Most Penalties Awarded Against Premier League Sides
If ‘penalties scored’ are a good indicator of success, then ‘penalties scored against’ are an even more accurate representation of who is likely to struggle. This has undoubtedly been the case in the Premier League in recent seasons, where teams who end up on the wrong end of penalty calls have tended to endure tough campaigns. In the 2021/22 Premier League season, it was Norwich City who gave the most away with 12.
|Brighton & Hove Albion||7||4||5||2||4||2||1|
|West Ham United||6||6||2||4||4||0||2|
The Canaries then went on to finish bottom of the table after a thoroughly dismal top-flight campaign. The year prior, it was West Bromwich Albion who topped the chart for penalties given away with 11. Just like Norwich, they also went on to finish in the drop zone.
Most intriguingly of all, Norwich’s 12 penalties conceded is also the most by any Premier League side since the year 2000, which shows just how much VAR – as well as stricter interpretations of handball laws – have changed football.
In the entire history of the Premier League, the club which has conceded the most is Aston Villa. Having featured in every Premier League season bar one, this fact is hardly a shock revelation. Overall, the former European Cup winners have conceded 126 penalties in that time, with Spurs a close second at 120.
Most Prolific Penalty Takers
Any club with a truly specialist spot-kick taker will undoubtedly benefit in the long run when it comes to conversion rate. After all, you may have the most talented squad in the land, but if you squander half or more of your penalties throughout a season, it could end up costing you everything. An excellent recent example of this is Arsenal in the 2021/22 season. The Gunners missed out on a top-four finish in the Premier League to bitter rivals Spurs by the barest of margins, having missed three vital penalties during the season.
Where they lacked a confident set-piece specialist, other clubs did not. Spurs, for instance, netted all five of the penalties they were awarded last season, thanks to the abilities of specialist Harry Kane. The English forward is eighth on the EPL all-time list of penalties scored, with 28 to his name.
Topping that list is countryman Alan Shearer, who scored 56 from the spot on the way to becoming the Premier League’s all-time record goalscorer. Next is former Chelsea great Frank Lampard, who scored a remarkable 43 in his glittering career, seldom ever missing when it mattered most. Liverpool’s own Steven Gerrard was similarly consistent from 12 yards, bagging 32 penalties in his Premier League career.
All of these men were dependable takers, but the most impressive EPL penalty record belongs to ex-Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier. He scored 24 out of 25 in the Premier League, a conversion rate that nobody has been able to better since the midfielder’s heyday in the mid-1990s.
PL Best Penalty Conversion Rates (Min 10 Scored)
|Matt Le Tissier||Southampton||25||24||96%|
|Leighton Baines||Wigan, Everton||22||20||90.9%|
|Mark Noble||West Ham||31||27||90%|
|Bruno Fernandes||Man United||15||13||86.7%|
Data correct as of March 2022
Keepers With The Best Penalty Records
In much the same way that some outfield players can develop into set-piece specialists, a handful of goalkeepers instead gain notoriety for their uncanny ability to save penalties. A famous example of this would be former Liverpool stopper, Jerzy Dudek. The Polish international was a solid, if unspectacular, goalkeeper, but in a penalty shootout scenario, he was one of the very best. His knack for unsettling the taker was most evident during Liverpool’s Champions League triumph in 2005, where Dudek memorably stopped Andriy Shevchenko’s spot-kick to win the trophy for Liverpool.
In the Premier League, there have also been several keepers who have mastered the art of saving penalties. In support of the idea that great penalty stoppers don’t automatically become great goalkeepers, the two men with the most spot-kick saves in EPL history were both notoriously error-prone during their careers.
Most Penalty Saves In Premier League History
|Player||Club(s)||Years active||Faced||Saved||Save rate|
|Heurelho Gomes||Tottenham Hotspur, Watford||2008-2020||35||11||31.43%|
|Simon Mignolet||Sunderland, Liverpool||2010-2019||28||10||35.71%|
|Lukasz Fabianski||Arsenal, Swansea, West Ham||2007-present||38||10||26.32%|
|Ben Foster||Watford, Man Utd, Birmingham, WBA||2007-present||54||10||18.52%|
|Shay Given||Newcastle United, Man City, Aston Villa, Stoke||1997-2017||64||10||15.63%|
The man who has saved more Premier League penalties than any other is former Spurs and Watford player Heurelho Gomes, who prevented 11 from going in his net between 2008 and 2020. The Brazilian was first choice at White Hart Lane until Hugo Lloris joined the club in 2011, chiefly due to the eccentric stopper’s numerous errors that directly led to goals.
However, much like Simon Mignolet, who is second on the list with 10, Gomes managed to perfect the penalty save during his long career. In the case of Mignolet, who played in the Premier League for both Sunderland and Liverpool, he was most impressive when facing down a penalty taker. The Belgian was sublime on his day, and he even saved a penalty on his Liverpool debut in 2013 against Southampton. Inconsistency over several seasons eventually saw him fall out of favour at Anfield – especially after the club appointed Jurgen Klopp as manager. Overall, he faced 28 spot-kicks and saved 10 of them.
West Ham’s Lukasz Fabianksi is the highest placing keeper who is still active in the Premier League. Like Mignolet, he has also saved 10, although he has faced 38 since making his EPL debut for Arsenal in 2007.
International Tournaments And Penalties
In terms of the ultimate high-pressure situation in football, taking a penalty kick for your nation must be right up there. With the entire country watching, some players buckle while others rise to the occasion. At the FIFA World Cup, for instance, surely the pinnacle for any footballer, we’ve seen how important penalties can be – as they so often prove to be the decisive factor in a close match.
The best example of this is the dreaded penalty shootout, which some nations have managed to master down the years. The success that nations like Argentina and Germany have found in shootouts – who have each won four at the World Cup – also appears to show that there is a science to penalties – despite what some may argue. Germany previously managed to win a shootout in three consecutive tournaments, while Argentina holds the record for the most involvements in World Cup shootouts – at five.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are England, Spain and Italy, who have each lost three and won just one shootout. However, in the case of The Three Lions, their luck would finally turn in Russia in 2018, where Gareth Southgate’s men won a shootout against Columbia in the Round of 16.
It was a tournament defined by penalties, as a World Cup high of 29 were awarded (not including shootouts). England even tied with eventual winners France for the most penalties scored during the competition (3), offering fans hope that the nation has finally banished its spot-kick hoodoo.
FIFA World Cup penalty shootout records
- Most involvements – Argentina (5)
- Most consecutive wins – West Germany/Germany (4)
- Most successive losses – Italy and England (3)
- Most participations in shootouts – Roberto Baggio (3)
- Most decider penalties scored – Ivan Rakitic (2 for Croatia in 2018)
- Most penalties saved – Harald Schumacher (GER), Sergio Goycochea (ARG), Danijel Subasic (CRO) (4)
- Most shootouts won in one tournament – Argentina in 1990, Croatia in 2018 (2)
Are There More Penalties Scored Now Or In The Past?
In short, yes. With that being said, the main reason is that we simply see more penalties overall, thanks to the introduction of VAR and other rule tweaks. Compare and contrast, for instance, the number of penalties that were scored 20 years ago to more recent years. In the 2002/03 Premier League season, a total of 64 were awarded for the entire season, a number which had increased to 99 by the 2011/12 campaign.
Fast forward another decade to the 2020/21 season, and we get a Premier League high of 124 spot kicks being awarded, which just goes to show how much the game has changed. Alongside the introduction of ‘Video Assistant Referees’ in 2019, a stricter interpretation of the handball law has also helped to artificially inflate the number of penalties in the Premier League – as we’re now seeing double the amount compared to the early 2000s.
As you might expect, the number of penalties scored during this time has also increased massively, from 24 in 2002/03 to 102 in 2020/21. That’s a staggering increase, while it also represents a higher conversion rate overall. What we can extrapolate from this is how the art of penalty taking has changed during this 20-year period. Stutter run-ups, and a clamping down on keepers being able to leave their goal-lines when the taker is stepping up, are just two changes that partially explain the higher conversation rate in the Present day.
In a Premier League context, the penalty is more important than it has ever been. To that end, there is now a greater need for teams and players to try and master the art form. Furthermore, we’ve demonstrated that there is a clear correlation between success on the pitch and the number of penalties scored by a team – especially in the Premier League. While the manner in which a team earns a penalty can often be debated, the impact of the spot-kick on the modern game most certainly isn’t in question.