Manchester City v Arsenal: tackles, fouls and cards. The return of rotational fouling



By Bulldog Drummond

Here is the regular table showing the number of tackles, fouls and cards for fouls that clubs make and receive per game.


Club Tackles Fouls Cards for fouls
Arsenal 15.6 9.5 1.07
Manchester City 12.8 8.3 1.04
Aston Villa 14..5 10.9 1.62
Tottenham 19.8 10.9 1.39
Liverpool 17.5 12.1 1.18


In this second table below the higher the number the better for that club, because the higher number means the cub is getting away with more tackles and/or more fouls before the referee dishes out punishment.  And please do remember the yellow card total is not based on the total number of yellow cards the club gets but instead on the number of yellow cards given for fouls.  The original crude data is here.


Club Tackles/foul Tackle/card Fouls/card
Arsenal 1.64 14.58 8.88
Manchester City 1.54 12.31 7.98
Aston Villa 1.33 8.83 6.73
Tottenham 1.82 7.90 7.84
Liverpool 1.45 14.83 10.25


As we can see here Arsenal are doing very well, being able to put in more tackles before a foul is called.  But when it comes to tackles made per card waved, they are also beating the other teams we look at here except Liverpool.   Liverpool can put in more tackles before a card is waved, and commit more fouls before a card is waved.

This is the familiar pattern – they are committing 27% more fouls than Arsenal, but are consistently given more largesse by the referees.  And yet referees do have the power to card players for persistent fouling.  But to avoid that Liverpool indulge in rotational fouling.

Liverpool have eight players who regularly get pulled up by the referee for committing one or more fouls in each game.  Arsenal have three.  By spreading the fouling around the squad in this way Liverpool effectively cut the number of yellow cards they get.   It is legitimate of course, but not exactly what one might call sporting – besides which referees should be aware of this, after all we were highlighting rotational fouling ten years ago.

This is a tactic that serves Liverpool very well as it means that they can put in more tackles before they get a card and commit more fouls before they get a card.   But while rotational fouling was previously identified with clubs down the bottom of the league who used it to stop their centre havles and full backs getting cards every game, this is the first time we have witnessed the tactic being used by a club near the top of the table.

The point about this tactic is that Liverpool don’t mind their players being pulled up for fouls which is why they are committing more fouls than almost any other club.

Liverpool commit the fourth-highest number of fouls of any club in this season’s premier league and it is interesting to look at who they have allied themselves with in this regard.   They are putting in 27% more fouls per game than Arsenal.   And let me stress that is 27% more fouls, not more tackles.  Data from Whoscored.


Team Fouls pg
1. Bournemouth 13.3
2. Chelsea 12.4
3. Wolverhampton 12.2
4. Liverpool 12.1
5. Everton 12.1
6. Crystal Palace 12.1
7. Luton 11.6
8. Nottingham Forest 11.6
9. Sheffield United 11.5
10. Burnley 11.3
11. Aston Villa 10.9
12. Tottenham 10.9
13. Brighton 10.8
14. West Ham 10.6
15. Manchester United 10.6
16. Brentford 10.3
17. Newcastle 10.1
18. Fulham 10
19. Arsenal 9.5
20. Manchester City 8.3


The question for Liverpool is, is this sustainable?  We saw this issue with Leicester City when they were in the Premier League, and thankfully referees then picked up on the issue and realised that they were letting Leicester City get away with murder.   Liverpool have not taken it to such an extreme but they are committing more and more fouls.  And because they get away with 10.25 fouls per card as opposed to other teams who can foul much less before the card is waved, Liverpool have this constant advantage given to them by the referees.

Indeed when we note that only Wolverhampton Wanderers, Bournemouth and Chelsea are committing more fouls per game we can see the scale of the operation.

Comparing the data we can see exactly what is going on here.


Team Fouls pg Yellow for fouls PG % Difference
Chelsea 12.4 1.59 149%
Wolverhampton 12.2 1.32 123%
Liverpool 12.1 1.18 110%
 Arsenal 9.5 1.07 100%


In short, Chelsea can commit 49% more fouls than Arsenal before getting a yellow card.  Wolverhampton can commit 23% more fouls than Arsenal before getting a yellow card.

Liverpool can commit 10% more fouls than Arsenal before getting a yellow card.

You may like to wonder why that is.

Leave a Reply

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