Assessing Manchester United's penalty taker options

Manchester United got their first Premier League away win since February against Norwich on Sunday, clinching a 3-1 victory.

The second half was more nervous that it needed to be, given that United went into the interval with a 2-0 lead, but had missed two first half penalties.

Marcus Rashford missed the first, after a controversial VAR decision, before Anthony Martial also failed from 12 yards.

It didn’t ultimately matter yesterday, but penalty profligacy has cost United three points this season – two against Wolves, one against Crystal Palace – and needs rectifying, swiftly.

So who should take United’s next spot kick?

Are there any alternative contenders?

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Rashford has now missed two penalties this term, with Martial and his countryman also squandering one apiece, so none of that trio could moan if the ball was handed to a team-mate the next time United are awarded a penalty.

Harry Maguire, the man many want to be United’s new captain, scored against Manchester City in a shoot-out in 2017, as well as when he stepped up first for England during the Nations League win over Switzerland this summer.

His no-nonsense style appeals at a time when tame spot-kicks are being easily saved, while Daniel James has already scored twice from the spot in red too.

The most recent of those was the winning penalty in September’s shoot-out victory over Rochdale in the EFL Cup and Andreas Pereira, Juan Mata, Fred and Mason Greenwood also found the net on that occasion.

Spaniard Mata has the technique and composure, but is not guaranteed to be on the pitch on a regular basis, and the same applies to Greenwood to an even greater extent.

Fred is quietly and slowly getting his United career off the ground, but placing him on penalties right now may well be an unnecessary risk to that steady progress.

Pereira is an outside candidate from the spot – he is adept from the dead ball but inconsistent – and perhaps a first goal of the season would spike his confidence.

But Maguire and James, two of United’s new-boys, have been two of the brightest spots of the season so far, and should be leading candidates to take a penalty if called upon now.

And of the current options?

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Pogba, Rashford and Martial have clearly been placed at the top of the pecking order for a reason, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may elect to keep the faith.

Pogba is out injured until December and his slow, stuttering run-up is so frustrating and ineffective that it comes with its own set of problems. He tried a straight run up against Wolves, and missed that too.

Solskjaer wants Rashford and Martial to pick up more ‘simple’ goals and become more ruthless; dispatching penalties is a large part of that.

Rashford kept his nerve to fire home against PSG last season, while Martial netted at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City. Both men are capable of doing the business from 12 yards in big moments, but lack consistency.

Martial is colder, and has taken on the mantle as the number nine this season. That means he should have first refusal on the next spot-kick United get, with firm instructions to place it with more conviction than he did at Carrow Road.

The Frenchman should be the one placing the ball down when United next get a penalty, but any more wastefulness should see Solskjaer genuinely consider Maguire’s nerveless, powerful approach.

That may be seen as a damning indictment of United’s finishing options, but the club had a defender on penalties before – Denis Irwin during the Sir Alex Ferguson era – and the more mercurial talents have had plenty of chances. Profligacy from the spot cannot be allowed to continue.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.