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Leicester’s strange tackle / foul / yellow figures change as they slip down the league

By Tony Attwood

On 11 December 2019 the table looked like this…

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
1 Liverpool 16 15 1 0 40 14 26 46
2 Leicester City 16 12 2 2 39 10 29 38
3 Manchester City 16 10 2 4 44 19 25 32
4 Chelsea 16 9 2 5 31 24 7 29
5 Manchester United 16 6 6 4 25 19 6 24
6 Wolverhampton Wanderers 16 5 9 2 23 19 4 24
7 Tottenham Hotspur 16 6 5 5 30 23 7 23
8 Sheffield United 16 5 7 4 19 16 3 22
9 Arsenal 16 5 7 4 24 24 0 22

Now it looks like this

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
1 Liverpool 31 28 2 1 70 21 49 86
2 Manchester City 31 20 3 8 77 33 44 63
3 Leicester City 32 16 7 9 60 31 29 55
4 Chelsea 32 16 6 10 57 44 13 54
5 Manchester United 32 14 10 8 51 31 20 52
6 Wolverhampton Wanderers 32 13 13 6 45 34 11 52
7 Arsenal 32 11 13 8 47 41 6 46

It is an interesting moment because for most teams in the list they have now played exactly twice as many games as they had on 11 December.

One of the teams that has toppled down the most is Leicester City.  If they had carried on at their old rate they would have hit 72 points by now.  Instead they are merely on 55.  As it was, at the time we were 16 points behind.  Now we are nine points behind.  Still pretty awful from our perspective, but slightly less pretty awful than before.

Now what interests me in all this is that this decline has coincided with the publication of two articles in Untold.  On 6 February this year we published “How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards” with a follow up article on 26 February “What is the relationship between fouls, tackles and yellow cards?”

Those articles found that Leicester had a foul given against them every 2.08 tackles.  Other clubs got a foul against them after far fewer tackles.  In Arsenal’s case 1.61 tackles led to a foul being given.  But the most curious thing was that Leicester had to commit nearly twice as many fouls as other clubs to get a yellow card.  9.48 fouls for every card in their care compared with Arsenal on 4.32.  (And as the charts show, Arsenal in these figures were fairly mainstream; it was Leicester that was the outlier).

In short as those two articles showed, Leicester had either invented a new form of football, or else they were being treated much more leniently by referees than any other club.

And although they were indeed eight points behind Liverpool, they were still challenging, at the very least for second place.

Leicester’s decline has been dramatic since 11 December and that decline has been enhanced since our article was published – although I am not trying to suggest that our article caused a change (although there is a slight possibility that someone somewhere noticed it).

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Since 6 February Leicester’s record in the league is played seven, won one, drawn three, lost three.  Overall it is an extraordinarily rapid decline.  Here are their league results since February.

14 Feb 2020 Wolverhampton Wanderers v Leicester City D 0-0 Premier League
22 Feb 2020 Leicester City v Manchester City L 0-1 Premier League
28 Feb 2020 Norwich City v Leicester City L 1-0 Premier League
09 Mar 2020 Leicester City v Aston Villa W 4-0 Premier League
20 Jun 2020 Watford v Leicester City D 1-1 Premier League
23 Jun 2020 Leicester City v Brighton and Hove Albion D 0-0 Premier League
01 Jul 2020 Everton v Leicester City L 2-1 Premier League

At the same time Leicester’s figures in terms of tackles and fouls have declined – they are getting more fouls given against them per tackle and more yellow cards per foul than before.  Over the whole season the decline is modest, but over recent games it is very noticeable.

It might of course be that our little articles on the subject alerted referees to the utterly extraordinary nature of Leicester’s figures, or it might be that PGMO itself wondered how Leicester needed to commit more than twice as many fouls to get a yellow as many other teams.  It would be nice to think that PGMO looks at charts like these just as we do.

Since their win on 22 January against a poor West Ham side, Leicester have played eight Premier League games and won just one of them – against an ever poorer Aston Villa. During  that same period they have also managed to get knocked out of the FA Cup, League Cup and the FL Trophy.

Whatever it was behind their extraordinary figures that we highlighted, showing that they were committing twice as many fouls as Arsenal to get a yellow card, it seems to be having a far smaller impact now.   The only frustrating thing is that for half the season they were getting away with it.

What is particularly interesting is that when we did the first analysis it was just possible that Leicester had somehow brought together a team full of players who were twice as good at tackling as those of any other club and that even when they did commit a foul, the fouls were so minor that they rarely merited a yellow card.

That seemed unlikely at the time, and now seems much more unlikely given that they are starting to get more fouls given against them, and more yellow cards.

But what is most interesting is that this change has coincided with a decline in their performance.  True, they are still third in the league but they are slipping fast, and if this slippage continues they will not finish in a Champions League spot.

Maybe our little article did alert the PGMO to the fact that we were watching them.  Maybe they were aware anyway.  But either way it does suggest that a) Leicester were using the fact that they were getting so rarely punished for their tackles as a central plank in their approach to football, and b) once that was spotted and removed, their form declined rapidly.

And so maybe, just maybe, our occasional meanders into the backwaters of football statistics (which it must be remembered no one else published – for no one else brought together tackles, fouls and yellow figures all into one set of charts) might, perhaps, maybe, just maybe, cause PGMO to show a little more interest.

You never know.  Stranger things have happened.  Not often, but sometimes.

4 comments to Leicester’s strange tackle / foul / yellow figures change as they slip down the league

  • Nitram

    Maybe these figures demonstrate just what an impact being refereed in a stricter fashion can have.

    It could be just a loss of form leading to more desperate tackles of course, hard to know exactly, but one thing is for certain, the game is much harder when you are reticent in the tackle or kicked off the park without protection.

    Either way interesting stats.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Leicester are an interesting case on a number of levels. How they dived their way to a dozen penalties when the won the league, including an unfathomable example at the Emirates when Vardy impersonated Tom Daley, badly, though we would later avenge in that game.
    There again, the refs are pretty lenient on rotational fouling , as we know to our cost.
    Their unusual fitness levels and ability to press for 90mins, though of course they are not unique in that.
    Just find their whole story very strange, and it seemed to continue for the first half of this season at least.
    I am not sure his exact role in his new job, but would like to think Wenger is making a few waves if there genuinely are issues with this league.

  • Steve Vallins

    Maybe Leicester were aware and did tackle knowing that the chances of getting a yellow card was minimal even with rash and dangerous tackles , so their game plan was very different from the start of every game .
    At times Arsenal players only had to breath on an opponent to get a yellow or red card , so as an Arsenal player your mind set is completely different and they then had play as they’ve got handcuffs on .
    As we’ve just seen in the last 2 games most commenters on this site have stated how well the referees have been as in being fair to both sides , hence good results for Arsenal .

  • Nitram

    Didn’t listen to commentary or post match analysis last night but I turned the volume up when they had their penalty appeal to hear the SKY ref say it was a foul but outside the box so VAR couldn’t do anything. They also said if it had been given as a free kick VAR wouldn’t of turned it over.

    Sounds to me they’re still desperate because since when has the forward diving across the defender been a foul ?

    Oh yeah, when Arsenal are defending.

    The pundits didn’t like a fair ref the other night seems like they didn’t like it last night either.

    I may be wrong and someone will tell me how they was all full of praise for the ref post match?

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