Winning the league: the influence of fouls and geography




By Tony Attwood

I read with interest the discussion here about referees being biased towards Arsenal – a concept introduced by supporters of other clubs, but without any evidence.   The notion that the PGMO and/or the League itself want Arsenal to win because that will stimulate more interest in the league and improve TV sales overseas seems unlikely.   And besides, in the past ten seasons in the Premier League we have had five different winners, and although I am naturally sad that none of those was Arsenal, it does show an ability within the league to be challenging for all concerned.

It is true of course that 70% of those titles were won by teams from the north west but I am not really sure that is what concerns anyone.  The main thing surely, for most supporters is the difference between “my team” winning the league and not winning the league.

London in fact has seven clubs in the Premier League this season (Arsenal, Brentford, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United) – and I rather think that is a record, but still finds it hard to produce a champion (although hopefully not this year).

The North West has its four clubs, although Everton might say farewell this season – and indeed going back to London, so might West Ham.

But these geographical divisions do vary over time, as do the explanations as to why teams from one area win and others don’t.   London clubs, it was long said, wouldn’t win the league because a) life was “too soft” in London and b) there were too many London derbies which would all end in draws.

Indeed just as today we sometimes work out a league table based on the Big Six playing each other, so there used to be a London league table worked out in the same way to find London’s own champions.

But allegations of too much time added to help certain teams area always floating around, but without any substantial evidence, and when they are put forward without any statistics to back them up, they tend to mean little.

Although just in case anyone really wants do some detailed analysis, we do have a model on this site of how to do it.  It’s called “160 Games Analysed” and I have always felt it to be the crowning achievement of this site.

However back with today’s statistics, the biggest problem we have is with the refereeing as is self-evident given that for Simon Hooper 72.2% of his 18 Premier League games this season have ended up as home wins, while for Anthony Taylor 27.8% of his 18 Premier League games have resulted in a home win.  In short, if you want to make a bit of money gambling on football, simply look at the referee – that gives a fairly solid indication of which team will win.

But just in case you would like a new set of puzzling numbers this Monday morning – here’s a set that have not been quoted before.

The number of fouls committed by a team on average per game ranges from 8.8 (Brentford) to 12.7 (Leeds United).  Thus Leeds commit 44% more fouls than Brentford.  That’s easy to see.

The number of fouls committed against a team on average per game ranges from 7.5 (against Manchester United) to 12.3 (against Chelsea).

Explaining why some teams foul and others don’t is easy – it is down to the players recruited by the club and the approach demanded by the manager.   But why do some clubs get more fouled than others?

To try and find a pattern we devised a fouling ratio.  This shows fouls suffered divided by fouls committed.  High numbers in the ratio mean the club commits fewer fouls but is fouled a lot, low numbers mean this is a dirty team and other clubs don’t retaliate.

Interestingly at the bottom of the table are Tottenham and Manchester United who commit many more fouls than they receive and thus are awarded the “Dirty Bastards” trophy.

Arsenal’s move to the top of the table was deliberate – we have looked at this many times.  By why are Manchester United committing so many fouls?  And why in return are they fouled so rarely?  (For more on this topic see How some escape yellow cards but others are penalised for tackles).


Team Fouls committed Fouls suffered Ratio
Brentford 8.8 10.1 1.22
Arsenal 9.7 11.6 1.20
Chelsea 11 12.3 1.12
Manchester City 9 9.9 1.10
Aston Villa 11.3 12.2 1.08
Everton 9.9 10 1.01
Newcastle United 10.3 10.3 1.00
Bournemouth 10.3 10.3 1.00
Nottingham Forest 11 10.6 0.96
Fulham 10.5 10 0.95
Brighton & Hove 10.7 9.8 0.92
Leicester City 10.5 9.7 0.92
Liverpool 9.6 8.7 0.91
Leeds United 12.7 11.1 0.87
West Ham United 9.9 8.4 0.85
Wolverhampton Wand 11.6 9.8 0.84
Southampton 11.9 10 0.84
Tottenham Hotspur 11 9 0.82
Manchester United 11.3 7.5 0.66


As we show week after week, referees are not even-handed in giving out yellow cards, and clubs that foul the most are allowed to foul much more before each card is handed out. 

But fouling a lot is dangerous because over time it does lead to more and more yellow cards.  And over time Manchester United, to take but one example, will suffer.  They are fourth in the yellow card table between Everton and Leeds, having picked up 36% more cards than Arsenal this season.  

Not tackling and thus not fouling is not a sufficient tactic on its own, but combined with others, it can be very useful.  As Arsenal have found.

8 Replies to “Winning the league: the influence of fouls and geography”

  1. It’s still basically excused under the ‘I like to see the game flow’ banner, which to me is bull***

    Excuse me for being pedantic Mr Poll but I preferer the ‘I like to see the correct decisions made’ banner being flown.

    And I may of missed it but I didn’t see a mention of the other 6 VAR NON interventions!!

  2. And yet again Arsenal are being investigated by the FA after last-minute winner against Bournemouth.

    How many times have we already been fined for harassing an official no more than we see every week?

    Add to that the numerous failures of VAR, and yet other fans are saying we are getting ‘favours’!!!

    You couldn’t make this s**t up.

  3. Nitram,

    Arsenal unseemly display of enthusiasm clearly merits a harsh punishment, unlike Bruno Fernandes assualt of a match official.

  4. How do we keep track of the fouls not called? In game 50…yes that one,…fouls weren’t called and fouls that were called weren’t deemed worthy of yellow cards and yellow cards weren’t deemed worthy of reds…To this day that match makes me sick to my stomach.

  5. John L

    Apart from VAR ignoring it AND the FA ignoring it, what I want to know is why the person it happened to ignored it? Can you imagine if Xhaka had done it. The Lino would of pulled a muscle waving his flag.

    Lino, Referee, Var and FA all ignoring it. WTF

    Touching an official is an absolute no no, let alone pushing him, however slightly. Running on the pitch, may be unseemly to some, and certainly could contravene some rules.

    The point is a blind eye can and is turned when it suits. Funny how, when it comes to Arsenal, it NEVER suits.

  6. GoingGoingGooner

    Thanks for mentioning game 50. To all AFC and UA supporters:


  7. Let’s not spend so much time talking about what others say, and let’s just enjoy this beautiful season. TOP OF THE LEAGUE since the start of the season!

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