Sheffield United v Arsenal: Tackles, fouls and yellow cards



Apologies from the production team (ie Tony) this article was published originally in the wrong place so you may well have missed it!

By Bulldog Drummond

In an earlier article, we looked at the issue of tackles, fouls and yellow cards and noted that this season Sheffield United are tackling 22% more than Arsenal, fouling (at least according to the referee) 17% more than Arsenal and getting 28% more yellow cards than Arsenal (figures from WhoScored).

Now we can have a look at how these numbers relate to each other, and given the astonishing difference between the clubs I wondered if other clubs near to foot of the table are behaving in the same way.


Team Tackles pg Fouls pg Yellow cards PG
Sheffield United 19.8 11.5 2.81
Burnley 16.2 11.1 1.85
Luton Town 17.5 11.7 1.88
Arsenal 16.2 9.8 0.73


What this first table shows is that Sheffield United are playing the game in a way that results in a totally different response from referees when compared with their relegation rivals.   Not over the number of fouls they are making (Sheffield United are between Burnley and Luton in this regard) but in the number of tackles they make and the number of yellow cards they get.

Now we have seen this link before, and the only explanation is that referees are giving yellow cards not because of the high number of fouls committed by each club per game, but (completely irrationally) because of the number of tackles.   This of course is nonsense since tackles are permitted.

The only other possible explanation is that Sheffield United’s fouls are over 50% worse than Burnley’s and Luton’s.  Now I have had a look at videos of their games and although some of their tackling is nasty, there is no way one can say that Sheffield United’s tackling is 50% nastier than Burnley’s or Luton Town’s.

Therefore a much likelier explanation is that referees are handing out yellow cards, influenced by the volume of tackles – which is an emotional response, completely outside the rules of the game.

But equally odd is the fact that Sheffield United don’t cut the tackling down.  For there is every chance if they did cut their tackling down by 13% they would cut their yellow cards down by 50%!  One can only assume that either Chirs Wilder (the manager of Sheffield United) believes that the referees will give his side cards no matter what they do, or that this is the only way his team can play.

Now to be fair to Sheffield United they are not the most carded team.  Chelsea have picked up 79 yellow cards to Sheffield United’s 73 (equal with Aston Villa).  Arsenal remain bottom of the league on 39.

If we just look at yellows for fouls however Sheffield United are easily top of the league at the moment with 56 (compared to Luton on 36 and Burnley on 39).  Arsenal are again bottom of the league on 28.

So if we now change the yellow card column just to include yellow cards given for fouls per game we get this…


Team Tackles pg Fouls pg Yellow for fouls PG
Sheffield United 19.8 11.5 2.03
Burnley 16.2 11.1 1.50
Luton Town 17.5 11.7 1.38
Arsenal 16.2 9.8 1.39


So what we find is that Arsenal and Luton are getting the same number of cards per foul, and Burnley are getting slightly more (8% more in fact) yellow cards per foul.  But Sheffield United are getting 47% more yellow cards per game.

Quite simply, either Sheffield United are employing a bunch of players who really don’t know how to tackle within the laws of the game (in which case they ought to be taught) or they have players who simply cannot learn how to tackle (in which case the club bought the wrong players) or the referees, noting just how often Sheffield United tackle, just get fed up with the tackles and become free and easy handing out the yellow cards.

Watching videos of the games, I think the last one is true. The referees see Sheffield United tackling a lot more than other clubs and so wave more yellow cards.  Not because they commit more fouls (they don’t) but just because it FEELS like they are a dirtier team because they tackle so much.

To resolve this, all Sheffield United have to do is cut down on the tackles, which means training their defenders to intercept better and tackle less.

I’m not here to justify anything Sheffield United does, but I do think this is another example of PGMO officials being influenced by the feel of the game rather than what is going on, with PGMO doing absolutely nothing about it even though the figures are clear for all to see.   Worse the media is colluding with PGMO once again, by not mentioning these figures. 

We can’t know for sure since PGMO is such a ludicrously ultra-secretive organistaion but one of those explanations is going to be true.

Just imagine this happening in Germany.  The TV interviewer would be straight onto this in the regular post-match interview with the referee after the game.  But of course this can’t happen in England.  Our referees are clearly far too precious and delicate to be exposed to actual questioning.

Here is the table – just look at the final column.


Club Tackles per foul Tackles per yellow Fouls per yellow
Arsenal 1.65 22.19 13.42
Sheffield United 1.72 7.05 4.09

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