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Who should take Everton’s penalties?

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One year since we last asked the question, the penalty monster has returned

Everton FC v Watford FC - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Do you ever feel like you’re living in a simulation, and every once in a while the operator of this demented game of The Sims gets a little lazy?

Sorry, occasionally my inner philosophy graduate shows itself and wants to talk about things like simulation theory.

In seriousness though, despite the overall improvement in play compared to last season, Everton currently finds itself in an oddly familiar place — one that we wrote about almost a year ago to the day.

Last season, Wayne Rooney appeared to be the designated penalty taker through the opening months of the season, but after a series of misses, we argued that he needed to be replaced by the historically more efficient Gylfi Sigurdsson.

It was a non-issue for months thereafter, as the Toffees didn’t draw another penalty until March 2018. Rooney was handed the penalty against Brighton and Hove Albion, missing his chance late in a 2-0 victory.

Rooney departed for DC United over the summer, and Sigurdsson became Everton’s de facto penalty taker with Leighton Baines relegated to a bench role.

At the time of Rooney’s departure, Sigurdsson was a staggering 23 of 25 from the spot in his career, going 6 of 6 on Premier League attempts.

Since then, Sigurdsson has attempted five penalties.

  1. Iceland v. Nigeria: 2018 FIFA World Cup — Down 2-0 in the 83rd minute, Gylfi stepped up to cut Nigeria’s lead in half. He missed.
  2. Iceland v. Croatia: 2018 FIFA World Cup — Down 1-0 in the 76th minute to the eventual World Cup runners-up, Sigurdsson had a chance at redemption after his miss against Nigeria. He converted.
  3. Everton v. Fulham: September 29, 2018 — With the match still scoreless against the struggling Cottagers, Sigurdsson had a chance to break the deadlock from the spot. He missed.
  4. Manchester United v. Everton: October 28, 2018 — Down 2-0 in the 77th minute, the Icelander had a chance to give the Toffees a little life at Old Trafford. He converted.
  5. Everton v. Watford: December 10, 2018 — After a five-minute collapse that saw Everton turn a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit, Sigurdsson had a chance to level the score with 22 minutes to play. He missed.

That’s a 40% conversion rate over the last five attempts for a player whose rate was 92% before the 2018 World Cup. It’s a huge swing over a very short period of time for a player who has been excellent in basically every other facet of his game during that time.

The most obvious explanation is that the miss against Nigeria — a massive one for his nation’s World Cup hopes — has impacted the mental approach of the Everton No. 10. Maybe it’s just a run of bad form, or a simple regression to the mean for a player who was converting at an incredible rate before.

In any event, it’s worth considering Everton’s other penalty-taking options, such as Wayne Rooney, Leighton Baines, and...oh...uh...Lucas Digne and Cenk Tosun?

Let’s start with Digne, given that Everton has a history with penalty-converting left-backs. The Frenchman is clearly comfortable striking a deadball, as we saw on his equalizer against Watford on Monday. But has he taken penalties regularly?

Well, no. Not really.

Digne has one professional penalty to his name — a converted attempt while he played for Lille during the 2012-13 season.

Recall that Digne spent the better part of the last five years at clubs like PSG and Barcelona though, so it’s hard to be too skeptical of his number of attempts.

Cenk Tosun, on the other hand, is a staggering 25 of 26 on penalties in his professional career. He last missed a penalty on November 25, 2012 for Gaziantepspor in Turkey — he’s made 17 penalties in a row since then, including one in the Champions League against Danijel Subasic of Monaco.

The majority of those penalty goals did come against inferior opposition in Turkey, but a 96% conversion rate is good no matter who or where you’re playing.

The problem, of course, is that Tosun simply hasn’t been on the pitch all that much this season. Given his record and Sigurdsson current struggles, it seems an obvious choice to give penalties to Tosun when he’s on the pitch, but that still leaves the question of what to do when he isn’t.

Digne or Sigurdsson, then? At this stage, I’d lean toward Digne — provided he can prove proficiency in practice.

Everton simply isn’t scoring enough goals to give Gylfi a chance to right himself from the spot with matches on the line, and Digne is the best remaining choice considering the other options available in the regular XI.

(Note: After initial publishing of this post, one of my RBM colleagues rightly inquired about Richarlison’s penalty record — a reasonable thought given that he’s been the club’s best goalscorer and is almost always on the pitch.

Richarlison attempted and converted two penalties during his time playing in Brazil before moving to Watford. He didn’t attempt any penalties at Watford last season, wasn’t immediately handed the duty at Everton, and then when called upon against Southampton in a League Cup match shootout, he did this:

Does one bad attempt completely remove him from the conversation? Probably not. But it sure moves him down the list below Digne, Tosun, and probably even Sigurdsson.)