The solutions are there: why don’t the clubs take note of how to move forward?




By Tony Attwood

There are a set of key figures which give a general indication of how well a club is going to do.  To put it simply, clubs need to keep the fouls and yellow cards down, keep the net spend on new players modest, and keep the rate of possession high.   This should lead to a high level of goalscoring.

So in the table below, we would expect a club near the bottom of the league table, to be near the top when it comes to fouls, yellow cards, and net spend.   The clubs at the top of the league as we have seen keep possession, score the most goals and work hard to avoid yellow cards.  (Indeed you might remember we started this set of articles when watching how Arsenal almost cut their yellow card total in half in one season).

And what is also of interest is the fact that there are clear links between different factors – such as the level of tackling and the position in the league.

The table created below is in the order on the final league table for 2022/23 and shows the position of each club.  Of course no club ever gets to the ultimate position of being 20th in the fouls, yellow cards and net spend charts while top for possession and goals scored, but you can see that Manchester City have almost done that.

And what we can certainly see is that there is a link between the style of play and position in the league.  It is not absolute, but there are clear trends. 

I’ve not put the tackling figures in here, but we have already shown that tackling obviously leads to yellow cards.  Keeping possession leads to more goals and a higher league position.  Yet there are clubs where ceaseless tackling is their main method of operation, and of course they always suffer.

Arsenal are not too far behind the top of the league: the disruption of the defence through injuries last season and the lack of ready-made high-quality replacements meant slippage near the end, and there is a need to keep possession a little more, but Arsenal followed the model that we’ve been looking at for several years: keep the tackling down, get the passes into the opposition’s penalty area as accurate as possible.  

The numbers in the table below are positions in each column.  Thus Arsenal were 17th in the list of clubs by the number of fouls, and the fourth highest in terms of possession.  Brighton, who have done so well for a club their size, now need to maintain their position and to do this could spend more especially if that means they bring in a defender who fouls less.  But if Manchester United and Newcastle United keep on spending they are going to be in danger of disrupting the squad and of bumping into FFP rules.

The situation of Tottenham is interesting in that they are fouling a lot, spending a lot, but just not keeping possession.  The one thing they can do is score goals (the fifth highest team this past season) but that of course is down to just one player, which is a very dangerous way to carry on, for if he gets injured they are in trouble.

Numbers in the table represent position for that attribute.  Thus Manchester City commit the fewest fouls, and are 19th in the yellow card league (equal with West Ham, whose activities really could do with an examination – just as we previously did with Leicester.


Pos Team FoUls Yellows Net Spend Possession Goals
1 Manchester City 20 19 17 1 1
2 Arsenal 17 18 6 4 2
3 Manchester United 6 8 2 6 7
4 Newcastle United 12 13 3 7 6
5 Liverpool 12 16 11 2 3
6 Brighton and Hove Albion 6 14 20 3 4
7 Aston Villa 9 4 14 10 10
8 Tottenham Hotspur 6 10 7 9 5
9 Brentford 19 17 13 16 8
10 Fulham 10 4 12 11 9
11 Crystal Palace 3 6 15 14 14
12 Chelsea 14 9 1 5 15
13 Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 1 9 8 20
14 West Ham United 18 19 5 18 13
15 AFC Bournemouth 16 12 10 19 17
16 Nottingham Forest 3 1 4 20 16
17 Everton 14 6 18 17 19
18 Leicester City 10 14 19 12 11
19 Leeds United 1 1 16 13 12
20 Southampton 5 11 8 15 18


One thing we can most certainly say is that spending lots of money doesn’t do much good if the club has not got players who can keep possession.   The clubs near the bottom of the Premier League last season ran into this problem as clubs 14 to 20th in the league table last season were all poor at keeping possession.   Leeds tried to rectify this by fouling all the time – that didn’t help much.

But clubs find themselves under pressure from supporters and from the media – neither of which group has shown itself particularly interested in having a look at a load of numbers to find out what is wrong.  Opinions rule statistics all the time.

So solutions tend to focus on individual players and the need to buy more, rather than a fulsome analysis of where the problem lies and what sort of player is needed to overcome it.

Thus on the surface, Leeds’ problem is simply that they don’t win enough games, but beneath that we have the unsatisfactory tactic of fouling and getting yellow cards, which of course makes winning games much harder.

Chelsea’s problem is their last solution – spending more and more money so that they eventually disrupt the squad and get into a position where FFP becomes an issue.

Wolverhampton fans, when we wrote about their fouling tactics, said they were being penalized by referees   Quite possibly that is so: Arsenal suffered in this way as well.  But Arsenal solved the issue not by continuing with the same style of play, but changing it completely and cutting out the tackling, thus taking back control of the games.  

The problem for Wolverhampton is that they have not moved to this tactic.

Of course it can be argued that you need the right players to change tactics in this way – but then that applies to all clubs, large and small.  Clearly, Brighton have managed to achieve what they need by ensuring that they have players who can keep possession and keep the yellow card total under control.  It would be interesting to see exactly how they do that given they are the sixth-most-fouling club in the League.

But the methodology to discover the answer to that is beyond the scope of this little review: the fact is that some approaches tend to bring a rise in the table, others don’t.  And yet a lot of clubs never seem to get that.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *