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By Tony Attwood
When Untold runs a story which is not in any of the media, I always like to keep a look to see if the media ever catch up with us, and if so, how (if at all) they excuse themselves for not mentioning it before.
If you are a regular reader you will know we did quite a bit of work on Leicester last season, looking at the number of tackles, the number of fouls and the number of yellow cards that each club in the Premier League got.
Leicester were not just top of the tackles list, they were bottom of the yellows list – an amazing achievement. But equally important we noticed that although the Premier League openly publish the tackles and yellows list club by club they curiously don’t publish the number of fouls list. Yet the number of fouls is easier to measure than tackles, since a foul is recognised by the referee as an event and (except in the tiny number of “play on” decisions where the foul didn’t work and the fouled team gets an advantage) is thus readily measurable.
Even more curiously, there is a Premier League page for “fouls” and it says this
Premier League Club Stats
Filter by season 2019/20
This table ranks teams based on the currently selected stat type No stats are available for your search
Now curiously that is encouraging because the existence of that new page might well mean that having made quite a fuss last last season about the missing statistic the PL is going to include that stat on the number of fouls, this season. We shall see.
Last season we published two relevant articles on this. On 6 February 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?”
And then, rather curiously Leicester’s tactics started to change and the number of tackles declined. Not enough to stop them ending up at the top of the tackles league, but the number went down and down. And slowly the number of yellows went up until the table ended up like this.
Leicester were the team with the second lowest number of yellow cards, but with the highest number of tackles going in. Which is pretty extraordinary. Not impossible but very unlikely.
It took Leicester 18 tackles to get a yellow card but with Arsenal it was under seven. An extraordinary difference.
But as the situation changed after our little expose, so did Leicester’s league table position, as they slipped down and down the league. They started 2020 second in the league only to Liverpool, nine points ahead of Chelsea in fourth. By the end of the season they had dropped to four points behind Chelsea, and out of the cherished Champions League spot. A 13 point drop vis a vis one other team!
Our interpretation was that the decline in league position came alongside the decline in their level of tackling and the increase in their number of yellow cards. In other words, referees had tightened up on the club. Why that was we can only speculate but in the end it comes down to this. Either our reporting on Leicester’s curious figures and the start of their decline was a complete coincidence, or else our little set of reports were noted, and the word went out to referees that this was all getting out of hand. Or, unlikely as it might seem, someone said, “Those buggers at Untold are at it again”.
But whatever the cause, Leicester suffered a mega decline after such a promising first half of the season. And given the media’s decision not to note our report I wondered how the journalists doing a review of Leicester’s strange season of two halves might explain it all.
Here is what the Guardian has said in their preview for this season. The article is by Paul Doyle and is headlined “Brendan Rodgers’ team can be brilliant but could go backwards if they do not adequately address shortcomings”
“Leicester have a splendid team that can get even better. But, with others improving, they could go backwards if they do not adequately address shortcomings that led to last season’s weird anticlimax, when a better-than-predicted fifth-place finish was greeted like the output of a tawdry government’s algorithm.”
The report notes that Leicester “won four of their last 17 league matches and slunk out of both domestic cups – was down to a variety of factors, including a lack of depth and a lack of mettle when it mattered most.”
And so the strangest set of statistics (most tackles fewest yellow cards, to put it crudely) I have ever seen in a lifetime of studying football is reduced to “a lack of mettle”. If you want weird, the Guardian is the place.
But there is an interesting point where the piece says, “Rodgers is among the league’s most engaging managers, usually happy to explain his decisions and elaborate on points of interest whether concerning his team or football in general. His takes on tactics or players’ attributes are almost always interesting.”
Well in that case, WHY DIDN’T SOMEONE ASK HIM HOW HIS TEAM WERE GETTING IN THE MOST TACKLES BUT THE FEWEST YELLOWS, AND THEN STOPPED DOING THAT?
Indeed that is the big question. Do journalists not notice the statistics that are there for all to see? Or do they notice them but think, “English fans don’t like numbers?” Or is it that they just scribble down their articles without actually bothering to look at facts at all?”
You see, my point is not that the explanation is wrong, but that there is no explanation for Leicester’s suddenly change from a tactic which, if hard to explain in terms of contemporary refereeing, was nonetheless stunningly successful. Tackle more than anyone, get fewer yellow cards than anyone. Brilliant!
That is ignored, and then so is the follow up. Why change such an amazingly successful tactic, just at the moment that a little blog like Untold Arsenal breaks the silence of the footballing world, and publishes the numbers?
It couldn’t be that someone from PGMO had a word with the referees about their leniency after we came out with our figures, could it?
Here’s a final point, as regular readers know, we are out on our own suggesting there are things wrong with PGMO. That’s fine – we look at the numbers and drawn conclusions, that’s all.
But here’s the big thing: the Guardian – in common with the rest of the media, offered no explanation at all as to why such a successful approach (high tackle numbers, low yellow cards) was suddenly changed part way through the season. If they said, “refs tightened up” that would be an explanation. If they said, “players X Y Z were injured, that would be an explanation” (although I’ve looked for that but can’t match it with reality).
But they don’t even mention the weirdest figures ever in football. That is what is so very, very strange.
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One final point: there is an article – highlighted above – about the fact that there will be no TV coverage and no one in the ground for some matches from now on. Which means we are going to have a very hard job verifying even the general accuracy of the figures this season. Just after a season in which we found such odd stats.
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