Why are some teams persistently fouled so much more than other clubs?


By Tony Attwood

There is no doubt that consistency in a team can help – consistency in winning obviously means ultimately the club wins the league.  Indeed if you were to draw up the Premier League table of last season based on the number of wins rather than the number of points, you get the same table.  Manchester City top, Arsenal second, and so on.

Consistency in not losing doesn’t quite give the same result (Newcastle would be above Arsenal by that measure) but it is pretty close.

A league table based on goals scored however would look a bit more odd, Liverpool rise up to third and Brighton to fourth, while Manchester United sink from third to 7th.  On that measure, Southampton, Wolverhampton and Everton would be relegated.  But it is the table based on goals against that really brings up the changes.  Tottenham it seems had the 15th worst defence in the league.  Arsenal drop to third, having let in ten more goals than Manchester City and Newcastle.

But what brings about these positions?  It has often been suggested that a steady squad is what is needed, and Arsenal did indeed have seven players who played 34 Premier League games or more through the course of the season.  Manchester City had two.

But Manchester City had 14 players who played 20-plus league games.  Arsenal had 11, same as Tottenham, Manchester United and Newcastle United.

As for the teams near the foot of the table Leicester City had eight, Everton had nine.  Chelsea had seven.

In short better teams tend to have more players who play 20+ league games.   But of course, there is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy here since clubs that are doing less well, tend to change their team around in order to try and do better – or because their players are being fouled a lot and as a result are getting injured.

This led to a new thought – and this is the main point of this piece.   Are there certain teams that get fouled a lot more than others – and if so why?

As a result of all this we started to look at the four clubs each season that were fouled the most by other teams using data from Whoscored.  It is quite an interesting concept, but for whatever reason no one seems to have been looking at this before.   

We know quite a bit about the teams that foul the most – for example this last season Aston Villa were 9th in the fouling table, Crystal Palace were third, Chelsea were 14th and Arsenal 17th.   But what we did not expect to find in any regard was a pattern in terms of the teams that were fouled the most.   So here are the results over the last five seasons.   The teams that were fouled the most.

Fouled by other teams 2022/23


Team Fouled pg Lge pos
1. Aston Villa 13.1 7
2. Crystal Palace 12.6 11
3. Chelsea 12.2 12
4. Arsenal 11.4 2


Fouled by other teams 2021/22


Team Fouled pg Lge pos
1. Aston Villa 13.3 14
2. Crystal Palace 12.7 12
3. Norwich City 11.3 20
4. Tottenham Hotspur 10.7 4


Fouled by other teams 2021/22


Team Fouled pg Lge Pos
1. Aston Villa 14.6 11
2. Tottenham Hotspur 12.3 7
3. Crystal Palace 11.5 14
4. Leicester City 11.1 5


Fouled by other teams 2019/20


Team Fouled pg Lge Pos
1. Aston Villa 13.8 17
2. Crystal Palace 12.6 14
3. Leicester City 11.7 5
4. Arsenal 11.5 8


Fouled by other teams 2018/19


Team Fouled pg Lge Pos
1. Arsenal 12 5
2. Bournemouth 11.6 14
3. Chelsea 11.2 3
4. Everton 11 8


This makes no sense at all.  Why would one group of teams constantly be fouled more than the rest?  And that is what we are seeing.  (Or if one wants to see it the other way, why would referees protect certain teams more than others by calling out more tackles as fouls?)

For here we have five seasons and in these Aston Villa have been in the top four list of teams that are fouled four times.  In fact they have been top four times, and only missed out on the fifth time because they were in the Championship.

Crystal Palace have appeared four times also, Arsenal three times, Chelsea twice and Tottenham Hotspur twice.  And remember these are clubs that are fouled – not clubs that foul.

Now one possible explanation could be that these teams are fouled in retaliation – the argument thus being that Aston Villa foul other teams a lot, and so are fouled in return.  But there is no evidence to support this.

Another explanation is the Corporal Jones approach: that tough northern teams can get one over the softie midlands and southern teams by kicking them off the pitch.  That would certainly fit since of the 20 positions noted above only one is occupied by a northern team – Everton.

Another is that referees protect midlands and southern teams against northern teams – but it is also possible to see this the other way around.   Clubs don’t foul Manchester City for fear of being booked every time they do.

I don’t pretend to be able to explain these figures yet, but they are real and they are alarming.   The same teams keep on being fouled the most, season after season.  What is the explanation for that?

3 Replies to “Why are some teams persistently fouled so much more than other clubs?”

  1. I’m more inclined to think that the geography has a lot to do with it because northern teams know that most referees are northern and they are less likely to get a booking for committing fouls against southern/midlands teams so adopt this behaviour as a deliberate tactic. The opposite being true for southern teams who know they’re more likely to get carded for fouling northern teams.

    It would certainly explain why (prior to Arteta’s change of tactics) Arsenal regularly received a high number of cards for a low number of fouls and why certain Arsenal players were targeted by refs and certain players from northern clubs who committed high numbers of fouls received a relatively low number of cards. By way of example, one Alan Shearer committed the highest number of fouls of any premier league player for two seasons in a row yet wasn’t given one yellow card in either of those seasons. We also know how Man U in the past and Man City and Liverpool now, also benefit from a low foul to card ratio.

    So long as we have the geographical imbalance in where refs come from and the over reliance on certain referees reffing certain clubs a disproportionate amount of time this (deliberate or subconscious) problem will persist. None of which is helped by the media supporting such a bias.

  2. I haven’t done any research on the matter, and I have no idea if the following suggestions have any validity, but here are three further possibilities: firstly, these teams dribble more than the others, specifically with skilful, tricky wing play, secondly, these teams’ players are more skilled in simulating and thus ‘win’ more fouls, and finally, maybe simulating fouls is one of the tactics used by these teams to gain a competitive on-field advantage during the game.

  3. Tim I appreciate the points you made, but there’s one problem with arguments such as

    these teams’ players are more skilled in simulating and thus ‘win’ more fouls, and finally, maybe simulating fouls is one of the tactics used by these teams to gain a competitive on-field advantage during the game.

    If that is so, then the referees individually and PGMO collectively must be able to spot that – if nothing else they have access to the same stats as I do, so the matter should be cleared up quickly. But more they have access to all the videos and surely have a backroom team that can put together videos of why Villa for example are always fouled more – and if they are simulating refs should be able to see it and spot it.

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