Premier League, Champions League seeing more penalties in 2020-21. How are teams sharpening their skills?

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Penalty taking has never been more important than it is in 2020. The introduction of VAR across Europe's top leagues, combined with revisions to the handball law, have contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of spot kicks awarded throughout the game.

There have been 41 penalties in 78 Premier League matches this season. By comparison, there were only 92 awarded in all 380 games of the 2019-20 campaign. If referees continue to make decisions at the same rate, it projects to a staggering 195 penalties in 2020-21, and nowhere has the impact of more penalties been clear than in the interpretation of a handball.

Figures show that the rewriting of the handball law in 2019 have played a key role, not to mention the way VAR adjudicates each decision. Serie A and La Liga implemented the new law immediately, but the Premier League allowed referees to continue with a more relaxed approach until this season.

A revised interpretation of the handball law was first used at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which was then used by most of the major leagues in 2018-19 when there were 37 penalties awarded for handball in Serie A and 35 in La Liga. In England, sticking with a more traditional interpretation, there were just nfl jerseys china nike

But penalties rocketed after the handball was officially revised in the Laws of the Game ahead of the 2019-20 season, making the rule much stricter. There were 57 in Italy and 48 in Spain, but just 20 in the Premier League -- again, due to a more traditional interpretation.6

Even in the Bundesliga, which saw the fewest penalties awarded among the top five leagues last season, the frequency of spot kicks has doubled in the early part of this season.

FIFA has called for greater uniformity and Premier League referees are now told they must award fouls for handballs, regardless of intent, whenever a player has made their body "unnaturally bigger." A classic example of this came on Nov. 8 when Joe Gomez was adjudged to have handled Kevin De Bruyne's cross as Liverpool drew 1-1 at Manchester City.

"It's frustrating and I know they've made an adaptation to the rule, but at some point you have to look at the game in real time," Gomez after the match. "Anyone in slow motion can say, 'Yeah, it's hit his hands,' but judge a scenario for what it is and that's not being done at the minute."

The referees agree too. This is why the IFAB (International Football Association Board) will discuss a proposal from UEFA -- supported by the Premier League -- to return to a more liberal interpretation of the handball rule when the technical committee meets on Nov. 23 to discuss changes to the Laws for 2021-22. UEFA is concerned as the Champions League reflects the trend too: in the past two seasons, there were 12 penalties awarded for handball (out of 111 total) but there have already been 11 in the first three matchdays of 2020-21 (36 penalties in total).china nike nfl jerseys cheap

The end result is that taking penalties has become a key skill that increasingly determines a team's success. So, how are teams trying to sharpen their spot-kick skills, who are the best players from 12 yards and how are they so effective?

There is only one man to start with when discussing the art of taking penalties in English football: Gareth Southgate. The former centre-back missed the decisive spot kick in England's Euro '96 semifinal defeat to Germany, cementing the cornerstone of a historic barrier he has subsequently tried to break down as manager.

Few people have examined the psychology around penalties as much as Southgate, mindful of taking over an England team that exited major tournaments in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2012 due to their failure of nerve from 12 yards.

Under Southgate's guidance, England won their first penalty shootout at a World Cup by beating Colombia in the round of 16 stage two years ago. It was the culmination of an exhaustive body of work that included practicing penalties at the end of training sessions to replicate the fatigue of extra time, detailed instructions on the walk-up to the penalty spot, overall mental preparation, a more intensive study of opposing goalkeepers and perfecting multiple penalties under pressure rather than relying on just one preferred kick.

But how does that work evolve over time? After all, the numbers show that the most popular takers are now deployed more often for club and country, leaving a real danger of becoming predictable in their approach.

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