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October 2020
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Tackles, fouls and yellow cards: the PL season so far

By Tony Attwood

Last season Leicester City raced to near the top of the league and for a long time were looking dead certs for at the very least a top four finish, if not a runners’ up spot.  And then they fell apart and slipped right back down the table.  So, in our normal way, Untold started to ask what happened.

Unfortunately the only help we got from Leicester fans involved a lot of abuse and rather silly name-calling, and the assertion that everything was down to the injury of one player.  In fact such answers were wrong since the decline did not coincide with the injury, but it did coincide with a change of tactics.  For up to the point where it all imploded, Leicester were tackling at a rate far, far higher than any other club.  And they were doing it without getting yellow cards.

There must be a reason why the club changed their tactics so suddenly, but the only ones we’ve been able to find is that suggests someone in PGMO told their staff to stop giving Leicester such an easy ride, or someone spotted our initial analysis and realised something very odd was going on.

Either way Leicester’s number of tackles fell dramatically, and their results got a lot poorer.  Which is why I’ve returned to the theme of tackles, fouls and yellow cards this season.

And we do once again find there is a outlier in the figures this season: Tottenham Hotspur.

But before dealing with the figures I need to point out, as it was not always made clear last season, that although tackles are the prime source of fouls, fouls can also be awarded for

a) actions against an opponent such as a push, charge, a jump into, trip, or a kick, holding, obstruction, spitting, handball.

b) goalkeeper offences such a holding the ball for more than six seconds, picking up the ball after it  has been passed from a team mate.

c) other offences such as dangerous play, impeding a player, preventing the keeper from releasing the ball etc.

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Of these three the number of type a) offences is far higher than b) and c)  So where we see a club that is getting more fouls against them than they have made tackles, we can be fairly sure they are type a) offences (the push, charge, trip etc).

This season it is the figures from Tottenham and Leeds that are causing interest, although other the activities of some other clubs are worthy of a look.  But first the table of Premier League clubs.

Rank (by tackles) Club Tackles Fouls Tackles per foul Yellow cards Fouls per yellow
1. Leeds United 96 34 2.82 4 8.5
2. Everton 80 44 1.82 2 22.0
3. Crystal Palace 75 53 1.42 6 8.83
4. Southampton 69 56 1.23 7 8.0
5. Wolverhampton Wanderers 65 39 1.66 3 13.0
6. Leicester City 60 39 1.53 7 5.57
7. West Ham United 60 41 1.46 5 8.2
8. Chelsea 59 56 1.05 6 9.33
9. Sheffield United 59 53 1.11 6 8.83
10. Brighton and Hove Albion 57 55 1.04 6 9.17
11. Fulham 52 56 0.92 11 5.09
12. West Bromwich Albion 52 53 0.98 3 17.67
13. Liverpool 51 36 1.42 4 9.00
14. Tottenham Hotspur 50 58 0.86 6 9.67
15. Manchester City 45 33 1.33 5 6.6
16. Manchester United 44 43 1.02 6 7.17
17. Newcastle United 44 45 0.98 11 4.09
18. Aston Villa 43 33 1.30  8 4.13
19. Burnley 40 38 1.05 6 6.33
20. Arsenal 39 33 1.18 4 8.25

Most clubs are getting around 1.2 to 1.3 tackles per foul given, but the number of tackles committed by clubs is incredibly varied.   Arsenal do the least tackling, with Leeds tackling two and a half times more often!

But Leeds are getting almost the lowest number of fouls with 34.  Arsenal and Villa are the only two clubs getting fewer – each with 33.  So – highest number of tackles but within an inch of the smallest number of fouls.  That is very, very similar to last season’s Leicester tactics.  At 2.82 tackles per foul Leeds are out on their own – again exactly as Leicester were last season.

Just as curious are Everton.   The second highest level of tackling (80) but with a lowish number of fouls.  And amazingly, not only a very high level of tackling (a prime cause of yellow cards) but  only two yellow cards so far!  They are committing 22 fouls per yellow card compared with most clubs that are around six or seven.  Arsenal have to commit four fouls per yellow card.  So Everton can commit over five times as many fouls as Arsenal per yellow card.  That does seem very, very odd.

The only explanation I can think of is that there is a use of tiny niggling fouls in rotation, among certain clubs, so no player gets booked for repeated fouling.  This annoys the opposition, and eventually a player (often a young player) retaliates, and gets a yellow card.  Job done.

So what we look for is

a) A high number of tackles but a low number of fouls.  That means either they have perfected the art of tackling or the referees are being very lenient with the club.  Leeds are way ahead of everyone here.

b) A high number of fouls – especially if higher than the number of tackles.  This indicates a team using every trick in the book to try and get an advantage.  Tottenham, Fulham and WBA are the three teams to watch here.

c) A high or low number of fouls per yellow.  A high number means the referee is being very relaxed about the club.  The low number suggests that the referee is being particularly stern, or the club is using other illegal tactics but the referee is picking them up.  Leicester again feature here, as they did last year.

Overall we can say, Everton and West Brom are either committing a large number fouls which are so minor no referee would ever give them a card, or else referees are being very lenient.

Fouling players

Rank Player Club Nationality Fouls
1. Steven Alzate Brighton and Hove Albion
 Colombia
14
2. Tomas Soucek West Ham
 Czech Republic
13
3. Isaac Hayden Newcastle United
 England
11
3. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg Tottenham Hotspur
 Denmark
11
3. Paul Pogba Manchester United
 France
11
6. George Baldock Sheffield United
 England
9
6. Jake Livermore West Bromwich Albion
 England
9
6. Lucas Moura Tottenham Hotspur
 Brazil
9
9. Phil Bardsley Burnley
 Scotland
8
9. Moussa Djenepo Southampton
 Mali
8
9. Allan Everton
 Brazil
8
9. Nampalys Mendy Leicester City
 France
8
13. Ben Davies Tottenham Hotspur
 Wales
7
13. David McGoldrick Sheffield United
 Ireland
7
13. Aleksandar Mitrovic Fulham
 Serbia
7
13. Denis Odoi Fulham
 Belgium
7
13. Andros Townsend Crystal Palace
 England
7
13. Joel Ward Crystal Palace
 England
7
19. Jordan Ayew Crystal Palace
 Ghana
6
19. Ryan Bertrand Southampton
 England
6

Top 20 players sorted by club

  • Crystal Palace: 3 (total 20 fouls)
  • Tottenham Hotspur: 3 (total 27 fouls)
  • Fulham: 2 (total 14 fouls)
  • Sheffield United: 2 (total 16 fouls)
  • Southampton: 2 (total 14 fouls)

This is another interesting table where clubs are employing two or three players to commit the fouls – with Tottenham standing out here.  However Tottenham are mid-table for the number of yellow cards, which again suggests a form of rotational fouling.

Can anything be done?

Our article highlighting Leicester’s bizarre figures came just at the time when things started to go very wrong for the club.  It was perhaps a coincidence, although it might have reminded PGMO that we are looking.   We’ll watch with interest what happens next.

Certainly these figures are extremely odd, and suggest that some teams are using rotational fouling in a more complex way that Bolton did, when they invented the approach.

All we can say to PGMO is would you please keep an eye on the clubs we’ve highlighted.  It would be ludicrous if another situation similar to Leicester were to happen again this season.

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

Arteta is appointed and our “Rotational fouling” phrase becomes mainstream

1 comment to Tackles, fouls and yellow cards: the PL season so far

  • Nitram

    Oh no! Arsenal’s beloved dinosaur Gunnersaurus has been let go due to cost-cutting measures after 27 years as mascot.

    Sometimes we don’t do ourselves any favours.

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