Tackles, fouls, yellow cards. How refs treat Arsenal, Burnley, Tottenham, Man C.




By Bulldog Drummond

Moving on from the last article, let us now see for our selected small number of clubs how referees are treating all these yellow cards that they are waving around.

In this case, since we are only looking at yellow cards from fouls, the yellow cards for unprofessional conduct and other issues not related to fouls (which make up a sizeable chunk of many clubs’ card collection this season) are not being counted.  Data from WhoScored.


Club Tackles per foul
Tackles per yellow card
Fouls per yellow card
Arsenal 1.66 11.24 8.99
Burnley 1.33 8.78 6.58
Manchester City 1.56 14.40 9.23
Tottenham Hotspur 1.78 12.38 6.95


So Tottenham can put in the most tackles before getting a foul, in our selected clubs.   They put in 7% more tackles than Arsenal before one of those tackles gets a yellow, 14% more than Manchester City and 34% more tackles more than Burnley before one of those tackles gets a yellow card.  That is a really significant advantage.

Either Tottenham have perfected their approach to tackling in a way that Arsenal, Burnley and Manchester City have not, or else, rather unreasonably, the referees are thinking that Tottenham are tackling so often that they can’t blow for a foul that regularly, as if they do, Tottenham won’t have any players left on the pitch.

Now that might continue the spectacle of the game, but it really doesn’t do much for the integrity of the sport.

But if that is not the explanation for Tottenham getting away with so many tackles without a foul being called, what is the explanation?  Are Tottenham players really 14% more adept at tackling than the Manchester City players who won three trophies last season?

For if these Tottenham players really are that much better at tackling without fouling than other clubs, how come Tottenham have thus far gained 31 yellow cards and three reds this season.  And just to get this in perspective here is the top and then the bottom of the yellow card table from WhoScored.

And just to be quite clear, these yellow figures below are for yellow cards for all reasons.

Team Yellow Red Possession%
Chelsea 35 1
Wolverhampton Wanderers 35 3
Newcastle United 32 0
Tottenham Hotspur 31 3
Manchester City 19 2
Luton Town 18 0
AFC Bournemouth 18 1
Arsenal 16 1


But back to this weekend’s game and the case of yellow cards specifically for fouls as dealt with in the chart at the top.

And in this regard consider Burnley.  Arsenal can put in 28% more tackles before a yellow card is waved for a foul than Burnley – that really is quite an advantage, although nothing as great as that which Manchester City has.  They can deliver 64% more tackles than Burnley before one of those tackles is considered a foul.

But then, once the foul is called, how many fouls can there be before a yellow card is waved?

Arsenal can deliver 37% more fouls than Burnley before one of them gets a yellow card. And rather surprisingly, Arsenal are now able to commit 29% more tackles than Burnley, before one of them gets a yellow.

And this is where we see Tottenham’s huge problem.

Arsenal can commit 29% more fouls than Tottenham before one of them gets a yellow card.  For Manchester City that figure rises so that Manchester City can commit a third more fouls than Tottenham before a card is waved.

Considering yellow cards given for all purposes, clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea will have picked up over 120 yellow cards for all reasons by next May, and quite probably a fair old number of red cards, although because of the small number of reds shown that is harder to estimate.

What I don’t understand is why Chelsea and Tottenham are simply not doing something about it.  Why are they not either

a) Training their players to tackle fairly

b) Abandoning tackling to a large degree and focussing on interceptions

The one area they can’t do much about is possession since Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Brighton & Hove, are the five clubs that have possession rates above 60% in the league this season.

So it can be argued that they hardly need to tackle at all – as indeed Arsenal have found.

I’m clearly not a football club manager, but if I were, I’d be watching Arsenal’s model which has resulted in roughly half the number of yellow cards as Tottenham, and would be moving across to that, rather than ploughing on getting more and more yellows for my team.

As for Burnley, as the top chart shows, tackling for them is a disaster.  More of their tackles are called as fouls, than other clubs.  More of their fouls get yellow cards.  And obviously therefore more of their tackles get yellow cards.

Is it really not possible to train these players to defend in a different way?


Leave a Reply

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