Luka Milivojevic extended his brilliant penalty record for Crystal Palace with another successful spot-kick against Brighton last weekend – and he certainly doesn’t fear missing one any time soon.
Since joining Palace from Olympiakos in January 2017, Milivojevic has taken 19 penalties in the Premier League and missed only two, most recently against Everton earlier this season.
It has helped him become a popular player at Selhurst Park – not to mention among all Fantasy Football fans – and the Serb says confidence when stepping up to the spot is key.
“When I am in front of the ball I’m just very focused,” says Milivojevic. “For 99% of my penalties I already know even before the game which side I want to pick because I practice.
“I never think that I am going to miss. The whole time I think that I will score. If I put the ball where and how I want to place it, I know that I am very close to scoring.
“Now I score many, I have more confidence, more belief, and I am more experienced. It is something that plays a big part in taking penalties.”
Thanks in no small part due to his prowess from 12 yards, Milivojevic has scored more Premier League goals than any other Crystal Palace player (21) since his arrival in the English capital.
But he has impressed equally as much in general play in his role screening the defence. In fact, so far this season the midfielder has covered more distance than N’Golo Kante, or any other player in the Premier League for that matter.
He says his success is a consequence of his work ethic and rigorous lifestyle.
“You have to be a big professional, you need to be very focused, you need to care about everything that is important for a professional football player,” says Milivojevic.“I mean about food, about recovery, about how you live, how much you rest.
“I always say you need to have luck, but luck you have to deserve and of course that is something I learned when I was young. It is something that comes from your behaviour, how you behave in your life, and from your belief in God.”
Milivojevic will need to keep scoring if he is to help Palace, currently 14th, achieve their aim of a top-half finish in what is their sixth consecutive season in the Premier League.
Having competed for titles with all of his previous clubs, it’s something Milivojevic has had to adjust to. But he certainly doesn’t regret his decision to move to south London.
“Our aim is to achieve to the top 10 and that will be something very successful for the club because the league is very strong,” says Milivojevic.
“At Olympiakos you’d start every game minus two points because a draw wasn’t considered a success. In every single game you had to go and win.
“In my career, Red Star Belgrade, Anderlecht and Olympiakos were all playing for the title. I played every single game to win. It’s something that I miss but understand, because of how strong the Premier League is.
17 – Since his Premier League debut in February 2017, Luka Milivojevic has scored 17 goals from the penalty spot; nine more than any other player. Assured. pic.twitter.com/Q5Z5TmH8Ds
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 9, 2019
“It was a very good decision to join Palace. When I left Olympiakos I came here because I knew that we have a good squad and good players.
“I wanted to try myself in the Premier League, the best league in the world, and after two years when you see what’s happened and how everything is going you can say that I took the right decision.”
Milivojevic reserves special praise for manager Roy Hodgson, adding: “He is a very experienced coach. He knows exactly what he wants from us.
“First of all, he works a lot on the organization of the team. With the players in the squad he prefers to use them sometimes on the counter-attack, sometimes to play possession.
“He is the most intelligent manager I have worked with. Our relationship is very good.”
Milivojevic’s contract runs out at the end of next season and the Serb has been linked with a move to a top-six club in the past, but with Manchester City and Arsenal still to come before the end of the season, he remains focused on protecting his back line from some of the Premier League’s most prolific players.
“The most difficult player to play against in this league is the player who plays No.10 position,” he says. “There are a lot in this league.
“It was very hard to play against (Philippe) Coutinho, against (Eden) Hazard, it’s very hard to play against (David) Silva, many times (Sergio) Aguero often comes to this zones, (Alexis) Sanchez from Manchester United.
“They are very talented players, very skillful, very powerful, very quick. They always have the advantage because the first move is coming from them and then you have to follow them.
“It’s very hard and their physical abilities are very strong. Let’s say Hazard is the most difficult.”
But when it comes to penalties, not even Hazard can compete with Milivojevic.
By Sam Kunti and Johnny Georgopoulos