The first ever analysis of how referees see each Premier League club



By the Untold Team with data derived from WhoScored

When all things are considered it is the variations that are concerning.   Now the number of tackles a club can put in before a foul is called perhaps doesn’t worry us much.  For Manchester City it is 1.36 (they are not used to tackling after all, and do it very much as a last resort) for Chelsea it is 1.88, probably on the basis that whoever the manager is this week, he hasn’t yet got around to talking about tackling.   Or fouls.  “Let them know you’re there” is the order of the day.

But the difference between the worst and the best in terms of number of tackles per foul is just 38% –  not very much at all when you consider the difference in the style of play between the clubs.

Yet then when we get to how many tackles one needs to put in, before a card is waved by the ever-obliging referee, that shoots up to a mega difference between West Ham (13.79 tackles before a card is shown) and Fulham (7.72 tackles before a card is shown).  That is an astonishing 79% difference.

In other words, a Fulham tackle is thought to be on average 11% more likely to be a foul than a West Ham foul.   But a Fulham foul is considered on average to be 79% more likely to be a cardable offence than a West Ham foul!!!

So let’s go back to West Ham.  It takes 11.8 fouls for them to get a card – with Chelsea it is 4.73!   That is to say each Chelsea tackle is 150% more likely to be a foul than a West Ham tackle!!!

Now of course, we can explain this by the quality of the tackling – Chelsea have a bunch of wild tribesmen policing the back line, ready to chop down anyone who ventures forth.  West Ham are tackling dilettantes, delicately nicking the ball from the foot of the opposition in a way that almost brings applause from the ref.   

Besides, the difference in the number of fouls received by the most fouled club and the least fouled club is 68% – or 201 fouls during a season.  Do clubs set out to foul Aston Villa in the hope of softening them up or because in the immortal words of Corporal Jones “they don’t like it up em”?  Or do they lay off Manchester United because… well I don’t know.  We’ve put the table at the end so you can decide.

But ultimately the only thing that makes sense in all this is to say that the referees oversee games by their perception of each club.  So some teams are perceived to be dirty and some clean.    Forget the laws of the game: it is how the referees see each club.

So here we are, the first-ever Premier League table of how referees see some clubs…

Arsenal: They found out how us refs control them, and decided to stop tackling, making PGMO look a right bunch of Charlies.  So the days of waving a yellow at them for breathing are long gone; no point trying to make them the most carded club as they won’t oblige, but give them some cards anyway.  Just to show you know.

Aston Villa: A bunch of uppity upstarts pushing their way up the league.  Make sure you get the cards ready to show them that just because they are on the up, they can’t push you.

Chelsea: A dirty load of money waving whatnots thinking they can buy their way to the top.  We obliged the Russian guy because, well, you know, but we have to show them that’s over.  Let them tackle, but then really hit them with the cards. for the fouls.

Fulham: Playing at a ground that isn’t finished and sticking the officials out in the sticks; it’s an outrage that 1905 Pavillion.  When they tackle show a card – that will show them we want a proper changing room.

Leeds: They are going to tackle all day long, so let them do it, but after a while they are going to need stopping, so once you start showing yellows, just keep waving.

Leicester City: They made right fools of us a couple of years back when we did their bidding letting them tackle 100 to the dozen without a warning.  And then all those penalties they tricked us into giving them.  Just help them on their way down.

Manchester City: They so rarely tackle they only do it when desperate so it is bound to be a foul.

Tottenham Hotspur: OK they tackle a lot, but they don’t mean anything by it.  And besides the hospitality room in the new ground is excellent, and its rude to annoy one’s hosts.

West Ham United:  Have you seen how nice the officials’ changing room is at the Olympic Stadium.  You can’t card them when they’ve been that gracious, can you?  Shame we had to pay for the place through our taxes, but still, its a lovely spot.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: They just don’t seem to learn do they?  When they tackle it’s a card.  Why don’t they either stop tackling or learn how it to do it?  Always take a bigger notebook to the game.

And the final tackles, fouls and yellows table…

Pos Team Tackles/ Foul Pos Tackles/ Card Pos Fouls/ Card Pos
1 Manchester City 1.36 1 10.69 4 7.84 3
2 Arsenal 1.52 8 10.87 3 7.15 5
3 Manchester United 1.54 11 8.43 15 5.46 15
4 Newcastle United 1.50 7 9.82 9 6.56 8
5 Liverpool 1.44 3 10.33 7 6.89 7
6 Brighton and Hove Albion 1.45 4 10.45 6 7.23 4
7 Aston Villa 1.52 8 7.91 17 5.21 18
8 Tottenham Hotspur 1.45 4 8.22 16 5.68 11
9 Brentford 1.66 14 10.62 5 6.41 9
10 Fulham 1.52 8 7.72 20 8.69 2
11 Crystal Palace 1.56 12 8.75 14 5.63 12
12 Chelsea 1.88 20 9.61 10 4.73 20
13 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1.42 2 7.87 19 5.52 13
14 West Ham United 1.68 16 13.79 1 11.88 1
15 AFC Bournemouth 1.58 13 9.01 12 5.69 10
16 Nottingham Forest 1.48 6 7.83 18 5.29 17
17 Everton 1.78 18 8.94 13 5.00 19
18 Leicester City 1.70 17 11.87 2 6.97 6
19 Leeds United 1.80 19 10.0 8 5.57 14
20 Southampton 1.66 14 9.03 11 5.43 16
Variation 38% 75% 151%


3 Replies to “The first ever analysis of how referees see each Premier League club”

  1. I agree that some of these differentials are bonkers, but without comparison to other leagues it’s impossible to know if this is simply human fallibility or incompetence or deliberate bias.

    If it’s simply human fallibility, these ‘bonkers’ differentials would surely apply across all leagues?

    If our referees were ‘uniquely’ incompetent, or worse bias, then these bonkers discrepancies would be ‘unique’ to the Premier league?

    Best get to work Tony.

    Don’t worry, it’ll give you something to do till the new season kicks off. Got to be better than simply reading about all the players we will be too slow, incompetent or stupid to sign.

  2. Reducing the tackling has worked for Arsenal. I think before, the refs were looking for fouls before the side even went onto the pitch. To my eye, there have been fewer ‘you must be joking’ calls against Arsenal this season. I think the perception by the referees has changed, aided by the new tactics. As Tony Attwood has pointed out, AFC did not receive a red card this season! That alone says quite a bit about how the refs see Arsenal now. You can’t win the League without the refs. Think that’s unfair? I give you Leicester City, World Diving and Premier League Champions of 2015/16.
    AFC have closed the gap on City in terms of points and also fouls/cards. The correlation is plain to see.

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