By Sneh Mazomdar – @CFCSneh
With Eden Hazard gone, who should we set to the task of taking set pieces for Chelsea next season? Hazard was a specialist in penalties. He had a special technique of shooting in which he almost always sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, and calmly slotted it into one of the bottom corners. We saw an exception of that in last season’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, in which Hazard was called out by City fans for taking a “Panenka” penalty in the penalty shoutout. The Panenka is named after a Czech player Antonín Panenka, who was the first player to ever try such an exquisite penalty technique at the 1976 UEFA Championship Final. A Panenka is basically a lofted penalty, which deceives the goalkeeper into thinking you’ll go either left or right. When the keeper chooses and commits to a certain direction, the ball is lofted above him and into the middle of the net. Now, coming back to the Chelsea set-piece takers…
We start off with the classic. With Hazard, the maestro of penalties and arguably the best penalty-taker the world has ever seen transferred to Real Madrid, who should be our taker for next season? Some names such as Willian and Pulisic come into mind. But the best penalty-taker in our squad has to be either Jorginho or Ross Barkley.
True, Barkley hasn’t been a good performer for us so far but he showed short glimpses of what a perfect and all-rounded midfielder he has the potential to be at the start of last season under Sarri. But he unfortunately declined back to his previous form from there. Mateo Kovacic was called up to take his LCM role then, and nearing the end of the season academy graduate Ruben Loftus-Cheek was called up. Barkley smashed in an inch-perfect penalty in the Europa League semi-final for us, Trapp going the right way but there was simply too much power in Barkley’s shot to be saved. That might not make him instantly eligible for taking our penalties, but it certainly makes him a very good contender.
Jorginho has impressed with his penalty kicks. His penalties are taken in a peculiar fashion: a moment before hitting the ball, he hops over it, makes the goalkeeper commit to a specific side, and slots the ball into the bottom corner. This technique is much like Hazard, except with the short ‘hop’. Jorginho missed a penalty against Manchester City’s Ederson last season, inevitably making us lose the shoutout. He tried to slot it past Ederson in the bottom right corner, but the Brazilian goalkeeper had read his tactics too well, and saved it with ease. His penalty against Huddersfield on opening day was a special one, again with the strange but effective ‘hop’. Jorginho is certainly a contender for the penalty-taker.
Last season, we saw three players scoring from direct free-kicks: Willian, Giroud and Barkley. With Giroud probably not starting for us next season and Barkley being probably benched by a younger player or Kovacic, Willian is looking in pole position to take the direct free-kicks. Pulisic or any of our young players are not as good as Willian on free-kicks. The amount of curl and swing on his free-kicks Willian can get is outrageous. He put a free kick on target against Manchester City in the Premier League, but it was smartly saved by Ederson. A rebound bicycle-kick by Pedro followed soon after, and the ball unfortunately reached Neptune.
Mason Mount also has an excellent technique, but it remains to be seen how much game time he’ll get this season.
This will most likely fall to Willian or Pulisic, who both have the quality to curl a ball into the box and pick out a man in the middle.
Either Hudson-Odoi or Jorginho can take the corners. We saw CHO taking some of the corners before he got injured last season; and his crossing ability is already evident, since he made Morata score a goal in the FA Cup by crossing. Jorginho is a master of the dead ball: he can loft it to players such as RLC, Pulisic, Giroud and Kante (who is short, but can place headers on target if unmarked).