Comparative stats for Sheff U, Arsenal and industrial scale rotational fouling

by Tony Attwood

Last season we started studying the number of tackles, fouls and yellow cards each club received. And we found some extraordinary figures – figures which marked Leicester City out as the real outsiders in this regard, tackling far more than any other club, and yet getting very few yellow cards.   And yet once we had pointed this out, their figures radically changed, and they started to slip down the league table, as if maybe the referees had noticed what was happening for the first time.  Or maybe they already knew, but didn’t like the fact that we had made this public.

Now this season after just three games we have something odd this season – Tottenham’s fouling procedures.   Fouls per game range from Leeds (7.67 per game) to Tottenham and Fulham (16 per game).  Arsenal are committing 10 fouls per game which is exactly mid-table.

Tackles Fouls Tackle to foul ratio Yellows Foul to Yellow ratio
Leeds 69 23 3.0 2 11.5
Tottenham 27 48 0.56 5 9.6
Arsenal 31 30 1.03 4 7.5
Sheffield United 48 44 1.09 5 8.8


In the table above I’ve included the team that tackles most so far this season, and the team that tackles least (Leeds and Tottenham respectively).  And then in the bottom two rows the clubs involved in tomorrow’s game.

Tackle to foul ratio:  Fouls can be given for tackles obviously, but also for pushing, elbowing, etc.  But whatever the cause, the Tottenham figures are extreme suggesting that they are engaging in a lot of fouling offences but not picking up the expected yellows.  So time to investigate (since obviously the media won’t touch this with a barge pole).

First, we note that last season Tottenham’s tackle to foul ratio was fairly normal, so this might be a managerial decision, given they have a new man at the helm.

Now neither the tackles figure nor the fouls figure are totally out of line with what other teams get – it is just the combination of their 27 tackles and 48 fouls that alerts us.

Leeds are tackling at a much higher rate than other clubs but only two clubs have had lower numbers of fouls against them.  That looks like Leicester’s tactics from last season, so that’s easy to explain.

Now looking at the Arsenal and Sheffield U tackles, fouls and yellows data, we can expect a lot of solid fouling from the visitors but a greater level of leniency by the referee than shown to Arsenal.  Again, that’s easy to see.

But Tottenham: their figures are weird.  It is in fact the opposite of what Leicester were doing last season – tackling all the time, but not getting fouls.  Tottenham are being called up for fouls for all sorts of other things.  So what is going on?

The situation is seemingly explained by the number of players who are involved.  Here is a table from the Premier League of players who foul at lot.

The first three columns are from the PL official site, and they show something very curious.

The fourth column counts the number of players from that club which are listed in this chart of players who have thus far committed five or more fouls.  The final column shows how many fouls these players have committed.

The point is to see if any teams have players who are combining together to foul, foul, foul and foul throughout the game.  In short, rotational fouling.  And we look for that for we know from the earlier days that clubs like Bolton specialised in this tactic, and endlessly got away with it.

This is particularly interesting because some 12 years ago Untold Arsenal introduced the concept of “rotational fouling” which last year was mentioned for the first time (as far as I know) by the BBC in a match report.   And four players committing five or more fouls per game every game (on average) looks to me like this taken up once again.

Now when we first introduced the concept there was much laughter at more typical nonsense from an Arsenal supporter.  But recently people seem to recognise that it exists.   However are Tottenham now taking it further?  Rotational fouling on an industrial scale?

Player Team Fouls Players involved Fouls per team
1. Tomas Soucek West Ham United 11 2 16
2. Steven Alzate Brighton and Hove Albion 10
3. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg Tottenham Hotspur 9 4 27
4. Allan Everton 8
5. George Baldock Sheffield United 7 2 13
5. Ben Davies Tottenham Hotspur 7 4 27
5. Isaac Hayden Newcastle United 7 2 12
5. Jake Livermore West Bromwich Albion 7
5. Denis Odoi Fulham 7
5. Paul Pogba Manchester United 7
11. Moussa Djenepo Southampton 6
11. Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal 6
11. David McGoldrick Sheffield United 6 2 13
11. Lucas Moura Tottenham Hotspur 6 4 27
11. Andros Townsend Crystal Palace 6 2 12
11. Joel Ward Crystal Palace 6 2 12
17. Andy Carroll Newcastle United 5 2 12
17. Matt Doherty Tottenham Hotspur 5 4 27
17. Ryan Fredericks West Ham United 5 2 16
17. Jack Grealish Aston Villa 5

These figures show why they are not getting the yellow cards.  One player fouls, then the next, then the next…  Exactly as we described all those years ago.

Who would have thought it.  The return of rotational fouling.