How the media is still failing to explain Leicester’s extraordinary fall from grace last year.

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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
     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.

Tackles Rank Club Tackles Yellows Ratio
1 Leicester City 742 41 18.10
16 Liverpool 551 38 14.47
2 Southampton 706 53 13.32
8 Wolverhampton 646 57 11.33
9 Brighton 641 57 11.24
3 West Ham 696 62 11.22
4 Crystal Palace 686 62 11.06
10 Chelsea 638 60 10.63
12 Sheffield Utd 611 61 10.02
5 Everton 671 70 9.58
13 Newcastle U 603 66 9.14
7 Watford 657 76 8.88
19 Manchester C 514 60 8.57
20 Bournemouth 507 74 8.45
17 Burnley 547 67 8.16
6 Tottenham H 665 82 8.11
15 Manchester U 580 73 7.95
18 Aston Villa 523 68 7.69
14 Arsenal 584 86 6.79

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”

The predicted position for this coming season among all the Guardian writers is 7th (Arsenal you may remember is predicted as 5th), and they say…

“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.”


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.

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.

20 Replies to “How the media is still failing to explain Leicester’s extraordinary fall from grace last year.”

  1. Ricardo and Ndidi are two of the best tacklers in the world hence the number of tackles and fewer yellows. We direct play to them to get the ball back. That’s why we rejoiced when maguire and now chilwell left as they are poor defenders. Evans is experienced and doesn’t give much away other than frustration at end of season. Soyuncu is increasingly world class and improved unrecognisably from the rash challenges he threw in the year before. Ricardo was injured and that DIRECTLY correlates with the reduction in tackles and our form falling away other players who can’t tackle as well needed to do it. We also had mega injuries in the last 5-8 games of the season, weren’t fit and had a run of higher placed teams. Every team we played other than palace had something to play for. In summary your stats are correct but your insinuation is not. We have two of the best tacklers in the world, one of them got injured.

  2. Now this is what I find so interesting. We’ve been analysing facts and figures from football for over 10 years, and this particular issue of the yellow cards / fouls / tackles numbers is one that has been subject to quite a bit of analysis.
    And here we have a reader who feels that somehow it is interesting or appropriate to answer that mass of analysis with five words (or six if Ha ha is two words).
    Of course there may be many who would agree with the writer, but a deeper reflection is to wonder what sort of person thinks that such a detailed set of analyses through half a season, can be answered by four or five words?
    It really is a most interesting view of the world that leads to that sort of conclusion.
    But I also wonder if this commentator actually read the piece, or if so understood it, in relation to why the Leicester tactics that had been so incredibly successful were suddenly changed. That is the big issue here. If we could solve that we’d know a lot more about what is going on in football.

  3. Tony,
    You chose to address John Darby’s comment. Not difficult. However you pointedly ignored what Bob Jones had to say, by way of explanation. Can we have your view on that, please?

  4. @Bob Jones,

    Sure enough one can just throw away any evidence and argue in a few words.
    Thing is when looking at data outside of Arsenal, specifically at the fouls/card ration, and doing this over a few seasons, it shows some weird stuff.

    I don’t give a damn about or neighbours, but if you look at their stats, and consider their team has been very stable, the variation is so big it just does not make sense
    The consequence is that they fell, with the same coach and a very stable team, from 2nd place to so low that their coach got fired.
    And it is not down to a change of referees. The PL has some sort of Jussasic Park when it comes to referees, not even having enough of them to make sure none referees the same team more then twice in a season.
    So Sp*rs, as far as I am concerned, have every reason to feel aggrieved. They got screwed and could do zilch about it.

    As for Leicester, the penalty stats of their title season are so far out of line that they alone justify wondering what was going on.

    And if we go back a little, we’ve got Fergie time. It’s been pretty much aknowledged to be a real element of the game at the time. Yet it was used only to help Manure. Was that fair !?!?! It is presented as some funny thing, almost lovable. Yet it is cheating and nothing else. Cheating by the referee who is supposed to be the ‘neutral’ person on the field.

    Look at Citieh….I mean…it’s Pep f…g Guardiola’s galactic marvel. The one team to rule them all. The one team who has made of football possession the Holy Grail. They own the ball most of the games.
    Yet in terms of foul/tackle rations they got a card for less then half the fouls Leicester needed (8.57 to 18.10) before the lockdown. Frankly does this make any sense ? Can you really affirm the Leicester team was so much better then Citieh ?

    As for best tackler in the world, well, if referees keep not calling fouls, you can become the best tackler in the world. Thursday night, Swtzerland was playing Ukraine. Xhaka had a wonderful thing of a tackle, just inside the swiss box. Perfect does not even come close. Yet I remember expecting the ref to call a penalty, then the VAR to review the action….none happend, nobody compained, no antics from Ukraine player or the Ukraine coach. Guess PGMOL got me in some king of PTSD. They did show it again in slow motion. It was perfect. Had he pulled such a stunt in the PL, it was a card and a penalty against Arsenal.

    So, yeah you can play the tune of sore losers, etc. etc and accuse Untold Arsenal of that. But it does not change facts. And if the facts are that PGMOL are an incompetent organisation, not able to train its referees to apply the same set of rules to each team game in, game out, incapable of counting to 2 in the aim of minimizing referees screwing up the championship. It’s referees are so incompetent that FIFA prefers referees all over the world before selecting one of them. And they even have topay reerees when they quit thir job a huge amount of money so they never talk about what is happening there.

    And the result of all that incompetence is that fans are at each other’s throat instead of 1) enjoing the game 2) doing something about it and taking to the street, stadia, airs (like with airplanes flying banners above stadia…) to demand they get investigated and kicked out. Imagine fans not coming…oh shucks this is what happens now and you can read the enormous financial consequences….fans have more power then they think.

    As for the owners, they did not care so far because the gravy train of TV rights was big enough. Now that this is coming to an end, maybe some of them are going to start wondering if such an incompetent bunch can keep on screwing up the beautiful game and riling fans accross the world. Close to me I can name 10 people who DO NOT watch the PL anymore because they got disgusted by refereeing. Which means millions around the world.

    So yeah, you can read this and feel aggrieved because you are a Leicester fan, or you can take a step back and ask yourself questions as Untold Arsenal has been doing for years.

  5. Indeed “Jax” – you are right. What you would expect, I hope, after all this time, would be the spotting of a series of strange statistics, and then an exploration of them to see what they mean. What we saw was this unusual combination of Leicester being the team that conducted far more tackles than anyone else, got far fewer fouls given against them and fewer yellow cards.

    As a result we might expect other clubs in the league to start looking at how they were doing it, and then thinking how they could overcome this tactic. Also if the PGMO were fair and even handed we might expect them to start reviewing the videos of the games to ensure that nothing untoward was happening that could produce such strange stats.

    And I am quite sure fair-minded Leicester supporters were watching this with interest too, along with scouts from other teams. The only people who seemed not to be interested were the football commentators and journalists who, I fear, once again felt that football supporters were not intelligent enough to be interested.

    Of course some Leicester fans will sneer at such a detailed and time consuming analysis having been undertaken, but the Leicester management most certainly will be looking at the collapse in the second half of the season, and those stats on tackles etc and wondering what to do.

    I know some Leicester fans are interested, but of course others need not be. And if the figures change again, some will know what is going on, and others will remain in ignorance. No one is forced to read. In fact Jax, since I as moderator know who you actually are, I am surprised you are still reading our work, since you dislike it so much.

  6. Mark, no I did not pointedly ignore Bob Jones. How you can know if I am “pointedly” doing anything is not clear, but I can say no, I didn’t think it was particularly important. Since you do, let me explain.

    I believe that Jones was injured on 9 March. But Leicester’s decline began as far as I can see on 11 January,
    Between 11 January and 8 March (before Jones was injured) Leicester played seven league games. They won one of those League games, drew two and lost four. There were also some FA Cup games, but I will leave them out for now.

    It would appear that Leicester’s approach with the player Jones was failing to create the results that they had previously enjoyed, and therefore seems difficult to argue that his injury was the prime reason that the extraordinary results that Leicester had enjoyed were due to his injury in mid March.

    You will appreciate that on a project like this – that of investigating Leicester’s very unusual statistics – I am working on my own, and thus not able to respond quickly to any alternative theory. But it is not viable for you to decide that on the basis of the amount of time I take to reply to a particular comment that is so wrong in its fundamentals that it is not a serious disputation of the stats, that I have ignored the comment. I think one might say that upon seeing it I had a wry smile that someone would want to criticise the work with an objection that seems somewhat flawed, but ignoring it – no.
    I put it down as not needing a quick reply because it was so obviously in error, and I suspected that most readers who had an interest in the Leicester situation, would appreciate that.
    What I am really waiting for is to see if the PL charts put tackles / fouls / yellows onto their analytical pages this season. If they do I think we might feel that this could be because of Untold’s pursuance of this topic, and that is all to the good.

  7. Bob Jones

    “Ricardo and Ndidi are two of the best tacklers in the world hence the number of tackles and fewer yellows”.

    Not having a go but when making statements like that you really do need some statistical evidence to support it. As is my want I thought I’d have a look at Ndidi’s stats, in isolation, and for a bit of perspective, in comparison to one of our own players, the much maligned Granite Xhaka, to see if Ndidi is as good a tackler as you claim him to be.


    Played = 32
    Fouls = 56
    Yellows = 6

    1.75 Fouls per game
    9.3 Fouls per card


    Played = 23
    Fouls = 34
    Yellows = 3

    1.4 Fouls per game
    11.3 Fouls per card


    Played = 9
    Fouls = 22
    Cards = 3

    2.4 Fouls per game
    7.3 Fouls per card

    So As you can see Bob, after the Lockdown, or indeed after Tony posted his findings on how leniently Liecster were being treated, things did in fact change.

    Ndidi went from being called for 1.4 fouls per game to 2.4 fouls per game, an increase of 42% which I think you’ll agree is quite substantial.

    He also went from receiving a caution every 11.3 fouls to receiving a caution for every 7.3 fouls, a decrease of 35%, again you’ll have to agree quite a decrease.

    So it does seem as if things changed considerably for Ndidi, being called for more fouls and being booked more frequently for those fouls.

    So what happened ? Surely he’s the same player? Surely you’re not suggesting his tackling became 40% worse after lockdown? Personally I doubt that very much. But what I can see is that the referees realised just how the way they refereed Leicester City was so out of kilter with how they refereed just about everyone else.

    And as I said, here just for a bit of comparison is how they refereed one of our own.


    Played 31
    Fouls = 56
    Yellows = 10

    1.8 Fouls per game
    5.6 Fouls per card


    Played = 22
    Fouls = 46
    Yellows = 7

    2.09 Fouls per game
    6.5 Fouls per card


    Played = 9
    Fouls = 10
    Cards = 3

    1.1 Fouls per game
    3.3 Fouls per card

    So as you can see both players committed an identical amount of fouls, 56, at 1.75 and 1.8 per game respectively, although Xhaka did play 1 game less. But that’s where the similarity ends.

    Over the entire season Ndidi received a card every 11.3 fouls to Xhakas every 5.6 fouls. Are you telling me Xhakas fouls were over twice as bad as Ndidis ? I find that pretty hard to believe.

    In fact things got so bad for Xhaka that after the lockdown, despite committing a mere 10 fouls in 9 games he managed to incur 3 yellows, a card every 3.3 fouls. Despite the referee clamping down on Ndidi, if you can even call it that given Xhakas statistics, he still had to commit 22 fouls for the equivalent 3 yellow cards, a card every 7.3 fouls.

    So in conclusion it doesn’t matter how good a tackler you claim Ndidi is, a foul, is a foul, is a foul, and to suggest Xhakas fouls are over 100% more serious than Ndidis is ludicrous in the extreme.

  8. @Bob Jones,

    the statement ‘two of the tacklers in the world’ did surprise me.
    I have no problem if they are. Good for them. I hav no roblem with a fan thinking that. Fair game.

    The one thing I cannot fathom hoewever is why we are not reading every other day how Real Madrid, City, PSG, Barca, Bayern are trying their darndest best to get them. Come to think of it I did not read either the equivalent of the ‘Vardy coming to Arsenal but Arsenal too stupid to sign him’ story.

    I have no issue with the 2 players, nor with Leicester. But facts do not seem to confirm the statement about world class.

  9. An excellent debate I think, raising points that are then answered with detail and evidence. Thank you to Bob Jones and Mark my words, for providing us with a further opportunity to explore the topic and fill in the gaps that I left in my original article.

    And as ever thanks to everyone taking part. Questions were raised, and questions were answered.
    I wish debates could always be like this instead of just descending into abuse. It would have been good if the Leicester people had come back and joined in more, but still is was good.

  10. Tony

    No problem.

    I would love to take you up on that offer one day when the World is back to normal.

    As for my tipple? To my shame ‘anything legal’ just about covers it !!

  11. Well done Tony. You’ve got me sussed. Yes, I’m still around and watching to see what outrageous BS you come up with next (although I wouldn’t put this Leicester article into that category).

  12. Jax

    On 5 September 2020 at 14:39 you say:

    “Absolutely spot on! Did you expect anything different from Untold Arsenal?”

    On 6 September 2020 at 08:10 you say:

    “…….. (although I wouldn’t put this Leicester article into that category)”.

    Not the sharpest tool in the box are you Jax.

  13. Nitram
    I literally meant what I said to John J Darby, wasn’t being smart arsed or sarcastic. What did he expect from this blog, a pro Leicester article?
    I think Tony A understood quite well enough, so why can’t the spread sheet man get his head round it (or didn’t I use enough words? ).

  14. Jax

    Okay, sorry if I misinterpreted what you said.

    ‘Spreadsheet man’ Hmmm, I’ll take that, better than a lot of names I’ve been called.

  15. I’m a bit late into this discussion but I’m appreciative of both Tony and Nitram for their research and presentation of facts.

    I also appreciate that a Leicester fan believes that his team has two of the “best tacklers in the world”. the trouble is of course is that whilst Tony and Nitram offer evidence, an opinion is merely that until evidence is presented to back it up.

    So what I suggest people should expect from this blog…..Jax…is for authors and readers to be wildly unimpressed by unsubstantiated opinions when they are far more familiar with facts and evidence.

  16. Great article Tony, is there any article pointing out the ridiculous amount of penalties given to certain teams?

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