It is often mentioned on the media that Eden Hazard is probably the best dribbler in Europe after Lionel Messi. Like the Argentinian, the Belgian genius has wonderful dribbling skills, world-class play-making abilities and some mesmerizing goal-scoring techniques. If there is one thing people don’t really notice or mention about Hazard, it is his penalty-taking skill.
Before diving deep into this, let me ask you a question. When was the last time you saw Hazard missing a penalty?
In modern football, penalties determine the result of the games more often than you would think. However, for some reason, fans and pundits take this for granted and essentially say that it is very easy to convert penalties into goals. Cristiano Ronaldo is often being ridiculed by rivals’ fans for so good at taking the ‘easy-to-convert’ penalties. In fact, he has a nickname called ‘Penaldo’ which is supposed to be derogatory.
If reports are to be believed, taking penalties is not an easy task no matter what anyone else says. Science says that during penalties, the heart rate of an athlete can increase up to 100 beats per minute without even moving a muscle. A normal athlete would have something between 40 and 60 beats per minute. Your breathing rate will increase a lot too and with it, the blood pressure will rise. In the end, the penalty taker will be under severe stress even before kicking the ball.
Every time I watched Hazard taking the penalty, I noticed that he was under stress. But more often than not, he managed to convert the penalties into goals. It made me think: What’s so special about Hazard’s penalty-taking skills?
Well, let us look at the statistics. In his professional career so far, Eden Hazard has attempted 52 penalty-kicks and converted 45 of them into goals. That is an astonishing 87% success rate. So, is he the best penalty-taker in Europe?
Let’s see. So I compared Hazard with supposedly top penalty takers in Europe currently. Comment below if I missed anyone important. I really wanted to add Italian legend Francesco Totti who had an 83% success rate in the 104 penalties he attempted. However, given that he’s retired now, I left him from this comparison.
Ronaldo has scored the most number of goals from penalties, Messi comes second with 80 goals, Hazard and Neymar occupy the third position with 45 goals each. However, this doesn’t explain who is the best penalty-taker in Europe or how good Hazard is.
Now, look at the chart below.
As you can see, Jorginho has about 92% success rate when it comes to taking penalties. However, he has only attempted 12 penalties in his career. Let’s narrow this further and look at players who have attempted more than 40 penalties in their career.
Only Balotelli has been more successful in taking penalties than Hazard. However, I’d say Ronaldo is the best when it comes to taking penalties. The Portuguese legend has a 84% success rate in taking penalties, a staggering result for someone who has taken 129 penalties. This doesn’t, however, mean Hazard is average.
Compared to Messi and Neymar who have 77% and 79% success rates respectively, the Chelsea wizard has better returns in penalty-taking. 87% is no mean feat I say.
Now that we looked at the stats and concluded that Hazard is indeed a genius in taking penalties, let’s see what makes him so successful at this.
Usually, penalty takers decide where they want to shoot and go with what they have in their mind. For example, take Cristiano Ronaldo again. Ronaldo picks a spot and angle in his mind and shoots with so much power. It doesn’t matter if the keeper manages to anticipate the direction correctly, Ronaldo’s penalties are often too fast to stop. Although he has a lot of different techniques, typically he would go for power and precision which makes his penalties almost impossible to stop.
There is another technique which is much more interesting. The technique used successfully by players like Balotelli, Hazard and Jorginho. Having a break in the run-up to the penalty, seeing which side the goalkeeper is going for and shooting on the other side.
Let’s analyze the winning penalty scored by Hazard in a recent match against Watford.
Before taking the penalty, Hazard takes a deep breath and looks at the goal keeper.
Hazard keeps his head straight and looks at the keeper till the last second. Just when the goalkeeper decides to dive towards a side, Hazard gets the signal and shoots towards the other side.
In the above pic, you can see the goal keeper is bending to his left and Hazard noticing it because he isn’t looking at the ball and is looking at the goal keeper.
Finally, the goal keeper dived to his left and therefore, Hazard shot the ball to his left side (right side for the goalkeeper). Goal.
This technique is not so easy to master and definitely one of the best penalty-taking techniques in my opinion. Sharp eyed fans might have noticed that our regista Jorginho who took some penalties in Hazard’s absence has a similar run-up too. It is important to remember that a break in the run-up is allowed while feinting on a shot is not allowed.
With everything we discussed above, I think it is safe to say that Eden Hazard is one of the best penalty-takers in Europe right now.
Check out this video by Piotr Foot that helped me with my analysis.
Please leave your comments below. Follow me on Twitter.
Written by Sarav