Manchester United avoid a really weird moment against Tottenham

It only took 79 minutes for the biggest question-but-not-really-a-question for Manchester United to arise Friday night at Tottenham Stadium. Paul Pogba won United a penalty and that’s where a big question could have been asked.

Who takes the spot kick?

This could have been a big question – and it’s certainly a valid one. On the pitch were Pogba, who was United’s spot kick taker last season, Marcus Rashford, their penalty taker this year, and Bruno Fernandes who assumed spot kick duties when he arrived in the absence of Rashford.

This turned out to be a non-issue. Up stepped Fernandes and fired United level. The question of who would take it wasn’t even brought up on the broadcast. Perhaps it’s because we know Fernandes took United’s penalty a week earlier in the friendly against West Brom so we all knew what to expect.

But just over ten minutes later, as the match crept into injury time, Fernandes seemingly won United a second penalty.

The decision was looked at by VAR and correctly overturned, which lead to a very minor occurrence that was overlooked by everyone, but could have been a really big deal.

Referee Jonathan Moss takes the ball away from Rashford…

Rashford was going to take the penalty! 


I don’t usually agree with Mr Luckhurst but he’s 100% right. Why in the world was Rashford going to take that penalty? It makes no sense. Only bad could come of it.

I guess you could say “oh they wanted to get Rashford a goal after being out with an injury” but if that’s the case let him take the first one.

You have to remember what United have gone through when it comes to penalties this season. In the Premier League they’ve been awarded a league high 11 spot kicks, but have only scored on seven of them (64%)! That’s well below the 76 percent probability that penalties come with.

Having trouble from the spot is one thing if not for the drama that has come with it to.

United won a penalty on the opening day of the season against Chelsea that was converted by Rashford. A week later, with the score level against Wolves they won another late in the match. This time Paul Pogba stepped up, a move that was immediately questioned, and missed.

That of course set off a massive round of debate. The newspapers the talking heads etc… they couldn’t get enough of it. For a week all we could hear about was ‘why did Pogba take the penalty instead of Rashford?’

The next week United won yet another penalty. Obviously Rashford stepped up and obviously he missed. You saw it coming from a mile away. Given the controversy all week there was just no way Rashford was going to convert that penalty.

This was a major moment in United’s season – I still maintain Pogba’s missed kick against Wolves was the biggest turning point in United’s season. Had Pogba hit that kick, United would have six points in their first two games. More importantly the mood around the team heading into the Crystal Palace match would have been far more upbeat. Rashford probably doesn’t miss against Crystal Palace, if United even need that penalty, and they probably have at least 9 points going into the first international break. That’s a much different first month than five points.

VAR made this a total moot point but why even open yourself up to the lines of questioning had Rashford missed?

Perhaps it’s because Bruno himself won the penalty? According to Opta, in the Premier League from 2012-2017 the probability of converting a penalty is lower when it’s taken by the player who won the penalty.

The drop from 81 to 73 percent is not insignificant. It’s an eight percent drop. But when you factor in everything else United have gone through this year, 73 percent is not much different from the 76 percent overall average. In other words, it’s not worth it.

The only other question here would be what rate do penalties get converted when it’s a players second attempt of the game. I don’t have the data on that, though I assume it’s not the largest of samples, but unless it’s significantly less than 73 percent, it’s not worth it!

As Luckhurst’s tweet points out, United’s coaches were trying to get Bruno to take the penalty but that could have made it even worse! Imagine if the cameras caught Bruno going and taking the ball off Rashford – especially after the week he had? What if that conversation didn’t go smoothly?

I have full confidence that Rashford would have buried that penalty and it’s a shame VAR took it away even if it was the right call. It’s just really weird that it was going to be Rashford rather than Bruno.

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