Why do Liverpool get so few yellow cards for tackling, and why can’t other clubs try the same approach?




By Tony Attwood

In this article we are looking at three clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool and comparing the three over a range of attributes to see if we can explain through this data, why Arsenal and Liverpool are doing rather well (being 2nd and 4th in the league respectively) but Chelsea are not, still languishing in 11th.  

The first table below shows that the tackles put in by the three clubs are about the same – the difference between them is under one tackle per game.

In terms of fouls – there is roughly one foul a game difference between each team – but perhaps a little surprisingly it is Liverpool who commit the most fouls per game.

It is also interesting that Chelsea have the highest possession of the three, suggesting that on its own possession of the ball is not a key attribute.   We then wondered if possession without the ability to pass accurately was of no value – but it seems Chelsea has the highest pass accuracy.   

In terms of aerial battles, Chelsea and Liverpool come out equally, Arsenal languish behind.  So in fact none of these attributes seem to explain Chelsea’s lowly position.


Team Tackles pg Fouls pg Possession% Pass% AerialS Won
Chelsea 16.1 10.7 62.0% 88.3% 13.6
Liverpool 16.3 11.7 57.3% 86.5% 13.6
Arsenal 16.8 9.9 60.9% 88.1% 11.1


We therefore turned to the attacking side of things and it is obvious here that the problem is that for all their possession (the highest of the three clubs) Chelsea have the lowest number of goals – ten fewer than Arsenal and Liverpool.   But here is a strange thing – Arsenal and Liverpool put in more shots per goal.  So now we have one step forward for Chelsea: shoot more.


Team Goals Per Game Shots per Game Shots per goal
Chelsea 1.3 13.9 10.69
Liverpool 2.3 17.6 7.65
Arsenal 2.3 14.4 6.26


But Chelsea also have a problem in defence as we can see.  Overall they have twice as many yellows as Arsenal, and if we just look at yellow cards from fouls the situation is almost the same.


Team Yellows in total Yellows from fouls
Chelsea 30 20
Liverpool 18 10
Arsenal 15 11


But then pulling all this together we reached this rather alarming table…

  • Liverpool 11.7 fouls per yellow card
  • Manchester City 9.3 fouls per yellow card
  • Arsenal 9.0 fouls per yellow card
  • Chelsea 5.35 fouls per yellow card

Which raises the question: how are Liverpool achieving that year by year, when no other team can come near to that figure?  To put it at its simplest, you might have thought that if there is a legitimate way of achieving such a high number of fouls as Liverpool’s before getting a yellow card, everyone else would be copying it, or buying the players that allow them to copy it.

This is interesting because when Arteta took over at Arsenal he inherited a club that was the most yellow-carded club in the league – and it remained that way through his first (incomplete) season at the club,   

Indeed looking at these figures it is hard to escape the notion that referees see clubs in particular ways.   That is not to say a referee gives a yellow card for a perfectly harmless tackle, but it would appear that with a tackle that is perhaps 50/50 as to being a cardable tackle or not, if it is Chelsea doing it, the card comes out, if it is Liverpool, it doesn’t.

Now seeing these figures, which of course the clubs have available all the time, what should one do?  Appealing to the PGMO is, as we all know, completely pointless because they are the people overseeing this state of affairs in the first place. 

As surely everyone knows, an appeals system only works properly when it is utterly independent of those who made the original judgement.   Otherwise, it is a bit like going to court, being found guilty and then having an appeal trial with the same judge running the case.

But Arsenal did manage to get themselves from being the most carded team in 2020, to 17th in the card table the following season.  In 2022 Arsenal were 13th, in 2023 18th, and this season they are currently the least carded team.

That move from being the most carded in 2020 to the least carded this season so far, shows it can be done, but other clubs don’t seem to want to do this.  Why not?

Chelsea and Tottenham are equal second this season on yellow cards.  Last season Chelsea were ninth and Tottenham tenth.  In 2021/2 they were tenth and eighth respectively.  In 2020/21 they were 14th and tenth.

As for Liverpool, they are on easy street.  This season, as with all the previous seasons we have analysed, they deliver a pretty average number of tackles, but those tackles don’t become fouls and those that do become fouls don’t become yellow card offences.   But how do they manage that season after season?  Is it that referees simply feel that Liverpool are not a team that fouls and therefore in all 50/50 situations they get the benefit of the doubt?  Or is there another reason?

That is a question we have yet to answer.

3 Replies to “Why do Liverpool get so few yellow cards for tackling, and why can’t other clubs try the same approach?”

  1. You seem to be starting from the assumption all fouls are the same and equally worthy of a yellow card. But of course in reality a slight nudge and a leg breaker are very different . Presumably you are working on the basis it all somehow evens up, but it doesn’t necessarily. Different players have different skill levels when it comes to tackling, clubs have different attitudes to how aggressive their players should be. So it isn’t really surprising that their are differences between the number of free kicks and the number of yellow cards. Since you appear to have zero data on the kind of fouls that are being penalised its all pseudo science which means absolutely nothing.

  2. What bemuses me Jod is that since we pubish a lot of information on fouling and other offences you clearly know what is on the site, and yet with your superior intelligence you still come back and make comments here. Obviously as a person who runs a blog I do look around at what others are saying, and yet if I find a site I think is unintelligent in its use of figures, I simply move away.
    Yet you come here and read the site, even though you think it is pointless. That to me does seem rather odd behaviour. Anyway, I won’t upset you by pointing out that there is a specific issue you’ve missed, since you so clearly think that everything we say is meaningless.

  3. jod

    “Different players have different skill levels when it comes to tackling, clubs have different attitudes to how aggressive their players should be”

    Yes they do, and that may be the explanation. You may be right? But there is absolutely no doubt there are massive discrepancies between teams and I believe it is perfectly reasonable, in fact necessary, to ask ‘why is that’? It could be perfectly innocent, but conversely it could be something more sinister, such as bias or cheating.

    At least Untold asks these questions, which is more than the media EVER do?

    ‘pseudo science’ you say. Hmm, I have not seen anywhere in these recent articles that Untold are suggesting this is science. Untold is just asking the question and offering an explanation, as have you?

    But, at least that’s a start don’t you think? Is it the players as you suggest? (I assume you have no scientific data for that assumption either?) The teams style? (Or that?) Or is it the referees? Is it the VAR operators? Is it The PGMOL?

    Is it all perfectly innocent? Is it bias or cheating?

    All I know is, NOT asking the question is the worse thing to do. By asking the question, we have had theories from Tony, yourself amongst others. Cant you see that is a good thing? Cant you see that is what the media should be doing?

    Asking why are Chelsea getting so many cards? Why Liverpool so few?

    For what it’s worth, you know what I think jod. When someone is afraid to ask a question, it usually means they are afraid of the answer.

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