By Tony Attwood
Measuring the number of tackles, fouls and yellow cards each club gets is something that only Untold does. Quite why no one else mines this rich vein of data I don’t know, but we do it, and the results continue to be extraordinary, and bizarre.
It was an idea that emerged last season when we looked at the unbelievable figures from Leicester City who seemed to be undertaking tackling on an industrial scale, when compared to all other clubs.
That was interesting, but as our figures show, the number of tackles is related closely to the number of fouls awarded – as would seem logical. Tackles, which involve both players being on the move, are hard to get right, and it is not surprising that no club in the Premier League is able to put in two tackles without committing a foul.
Manchester United and Burnley are being given a foul against them for virtually every single tackle. At the other end Leeds are out on their own almost managing two tackles per foul. But mostly the number is around 1.3 tackles per foul given. Tackling is not a way of getting the ball, it is a way of breaking up an attack and giving your defence a chance to regroup.
All this is straightforward and regular. And now, as we present our second analysis of this season, we can see another regularity. As before we have ranked the clubs by the number of tackles they are engaging in, and we see a fair degree of consistency. Clubs that tackled a lot when we measured them a few weeks ago, are still tackling a lot.
So far so good. We are measuring something that makes sense.
But clubs can and do change their styles of play. And last season Leicester changed dramatically, just after we published our first analysis of this tackles, fouls and yellows. Leicester were tackling far more than other clubs, but not being given remotely the number of fouls against we would expect. We publicised that, and suddenly everything changed. It was almost as if they had been found out, and referees woke up. (The contrary explanation of a player being injured and thus forcing the change of style was put forward and investigated and found out not to be true. The dates didn’t coincide).
|Rank by tackles||Tackles Previous rank||Club||Tackles||Fouls||Tackles per foul||Yellow cards||Fouls per yellow|
|9.||7||West Ham United||107||81||1.32||13||6.23|
|10.||10||Brighton and Hove||105||94||1.12||11||8.55|
In the above the three highest numbers per column are highlighted in brown, the lowest are in red.
Tackles: Tackles represents a style of play – a deliberate approach to the game, and so we would expect them to be static. The same three teams with the most tackles in our 5 October analysis, are still the same with the most tackles. The three with the least tackles were all in the bottom five for tackles before. Arsenal have risen from the club delivering the least tackles to 15th, but that is probably due to the change in players following the introduction of new blood after the transfer window.
The only team that has risen more than Arsenal is West Brom – they were the team previously with the 12th most tackles, now they are fifth. Given that they had sunk right down the league this is perhaps not surprising – they needed to do something.
Fouls: There is a huge difference between the three big foulers – Southampton, Brighton and Tottenham, and the three least foulers: Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. Tottenham and Chelsea are clearly the odd ones out: four of the traditional top six are not giving away fouls wholesale. Tottenham and Chelsea are.
But there is also a huge difference between the number of tackles a club can get away with without giving a foul. Aston Villa, Burnley and Manchester United give away a foul with just on every tackle. Leeds are out on their own – they can commit two tackles (just about) before giving a foul.
Tackling in short is simply a way of giving away a free kick. A player might tackle and get away with it, but most of the time, the routine is tackle followed by free kick.
Yellow cards are normally most associated with clubs near the bottom of the league, as they commit fouls in a desperate attempt to stop the opposition attack. But Leicester have more yellows than any other club. Chelsea, Tottenham, WBA and Liverpool have half the number of yellows as Leicester.
Leicester as noted were the weirdos of last season, tackling far, far more than other clubs but not getting punished in the way other clubs were. Then suddenly that changed, as our report came out.
But the biggest weirdest variation of all is the number of fouls committed per yellow card. Of course yellows are not just given for fouls – but mostly they are. And we expected to find a similar relationship between tackles, fouls and yellow cards throughout the clubs.
Last year as we have noted there was exception – Leicester – which changed after we highlighted it. Now the outlier is Wolverhampton – a club that has to commit four times as fouls as Leicester to get a yellow!!!!
So what is going on? Fouls, generally are fouls and as we have seen, the Premier League is fairly regular about this throughout the clubs. Generally clubs commit between one and two tackles to get a foul.
But how many fouls does a team have to commit to get a yellow card?
18.5 is the answer for Wolverhampton Wanderers. 4.17 for Leicester City. So Wolverhampton can commit four times as many fouls as Leicester before they get a yellow.
Leicester as we noted last season probably had themselves to blame for this – they used a system of mega-tackling, got away with it until we broke the media’s ominous silence on the subject, and now… now it looks like the referees have been directed by PGMO to come down hard on Leicester.
One can imagine the message from PGMO HQ last year. “The Leicester ploy has been rumbled – get on their case.” Now, will the referees let Wolverhampton play the same game? We shall see.
Every other club ought to know – the average number of fouls it takes this season to get a yellow card is 8.12. For Wolverhampton Wanderers it is 18.5. That is so far out of the norm that it cannot be explained by “it was a foul but only a soft foul”.
In short, Wolverhampton have watched Leicester’s tactics from last season, seen how long they got away with it, and are now trying it themselves. Tackle, tackle, tackle so often that the refs just let it happen.
Let’s be clear: Wolverhampton are pretty average for tackling and they get a foul against them every 1.47 tackles, which again is pretty mid-range. But while clubs are generally getting a yellow card every eight tackles, for Wolverhampton it is every 18 – an astonishing difference.
If that were really reflected in a new style of play it would be mentioned by every commentator and reporter, and copied by other clubs, but that is not the case.
Wolverhampton are committing fouls like other clubs, but are simply not being punished for it.
This can only be because of the referees. So, PGMO, we’ve rumbled this season’s game. Last year it took us half a season to get there. Now we are in much earlier because we know what we are looking for. Last season, PGMO, you took action against Leicester – or maybe the management of Leicester decided to change tactics before they started having every player red carded. Now we wait to see what happens to Wolverhampton. We are watching.
Previous articles in this series.
The first review of tackles, fouls and yellows this season can be found here.
- The home and away scandal: ignorance, or cover up?
- The reason why Liverpool and Man C are ahead of Arsenal.
- How which referee a club gets has a major impact on the result of each game
- The statistical evidence that shows PGMO are biased against Arsenal
- How European football has taken up the fight against clubs breaking FFP