The clubs that cheat at free kicks, and the clubs that are fouled the most



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By Tony Attwood

There has been a lot of talk in the media about the way in which players move the ball after the referee has awarded a free kick.  Indeed there are stories of the attacking team waiting for the defensive wall to be formed and then moving the ball back a little way to make it easier to lift the ball over the wall.  Or of the ball being moved a little to the left or right for the same reason.

Protests fall on deaf ears; the referees let it happen.  VAR we are told is not licensed to intervene in such cases despite all the evidence.

Indeed this trend, which has become public just recently, does give an extra emphasis to our earlier article, “In football the trend is for all evidence to be ignored…”

There is now even a name for this cheating activity, coined by the Athletic, “Foamgate”.   And that publication raised the issue, does every club do it, or are some more guilty than others?

What makes the answer particularly interesting is not just the number of times that teams move the ball once the referee has indicated the spot from which it should be taken, but also the enormous variation in the number of shots taken from free kicks.

The figures we are using here come from the Athletic and Whoscored and relate just to this season.   And if we start with the number of shots taken from free kicks we start seeing some very funny results.

Manchester City have one shot per game from a free kick out of 16.9 shots per game.  In 40% of those free kick shots they moved the ball.

Arsenal have 0.29 shots per game from a free kick out of 16.5 shots per game.  In none of those free kicks (six in total this season) did they move the ball.

This starts to highlight the range of differences there are between clubs.  Let’s consider what leads to most free kicks – it is a foul by the opposition.  Tottenham get fouled 14.3 times a game, while at the other end of the scale Sheffield United get fouled nine times a game.

Now we might expect Tottenham to get fouled this much because they are taking the most shots on target, but no they are only fourth in that category.

In the chart below, the club taking the most shots is revealed as Arsenal.  But Arsenal have the lowest number of shots from free kicks – and incidentally do not move the ball after the referee marks the spot.    Manchester City have taken 20 shots from free kicks and moved the ball illegally eight times – more than any other club.

But what is particularly strange is the way that these figures often don’t directly relate to each other.   To show how this is the case after each number we’ve put the club’s position among our selected clubs for that attribute…


Shots from free kicks
Ball moved
Manchester City
338 (3)
20 (1)
8 (1)
220 (5)
394 (1)
13 (3)
3 (2)
216 (6)
Newcastle United
293 (5)
11 (5)
2 (3)
260 (2)
287 (7)
6 (8)
1 (5)
191 (9)
244 (9)
13 (3)
2 (3)
216 (6)
Tottenham Hotspur
336 (4)
8 (7)
1 (5)
300 (1)
Manchester United
292 (6)
11 (5)
1 (5)
197 (8)
346 (2)
6 (8)
0 (8)
227 (4)
286 (8)
15 (2)
0 (8)
250 (3)


So Manchester City indulge in the ball moving practice as a habit – and as we have noted the referees do nothing to stop them.   Arsenal and Chelsea never move the ball illegally at all.

Manchester City also get the most shots from free kicks.  In this regard they are way ahead of other teams, even though they are only fifth in the league of number of fouls against them.  It seems that refs just give them free kicks because… well, they are Man City.

The three clubs that take the least shots in our chart are the three in the lowest positions in the league – which makes sense:  Everton, Chelsea and Fulham.  But Chelsea are second only to Manchester City when it comes to shots from free kicks – suggesting they are adopting a tactic to compensate for the lack of shots from open play.

One clear thing from these figures is that the number of shots is closely related to league position – as we would expect.  The same is roughly true with shots from free kicks – again that seems reasonable.  But Manchester City are alone in the ball-moving league – they are making it a central part of their “project” and the referees are seemingly turning a blind eye all the time.  Why?

As a final thought we might notice this: Tottenham Hotspur are fouled 57% more than Newcastle United.  Now why is that?  Is it that Tottenham threaten to score more?  No, the number of shots of those two clubs is almost identical.  Maybe other clubs just don’t like Tottenham players.  Or maybe Tottenham players fall over more often and the referees feel sympathy for them.


2 Replies to “The clubs that cheat at free kicks, and the clubs that are fouled the most”

  1. If ever a manager made a habit of encouraging players to drop just outside the penalty area it was Ferguson . First it was Beckham and later Ronaldo .It was no wonder they were both known as free kick specialists , they took so many.

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