Fouls, tackles and yellow cards. These figures are getting seriously weird

By Tony Attwood

As I mentioned last week, measuring the number of tackles, fouls and yellow cards each club gets and then searching for the relationship between them, 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.

Last week we noted that 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.

Now Leeds have far exceeded that.  They are up to 2.27 tackles per foul when mostly the number is around 1.3 tackles per foul given.

This week we can see some seriously weird figures from Leeds, Leicester and Tottenham while Southampton are at the top of the league in terms of points AND fouls.

League Pos Club Tackles Fouls Tackles per foul Yellow cards Fouls per yellow
15 Leeds United 168 74 2.27 11 6.73
7 Everton 158 92 1.72 15 6.13
4 Southampton 151 105 1.44 12 8.75
8 Crystal Palace 141 90 1.57 12 7.50
18 WBA 135 91 1.48 8 11.38
1 Leicester City 132 83 1.59 19 4.37
20 Sheffield United 126 101 1.25 11 9.18
9 Wolverhampton 126 82 1.54 7 11.71
12 West Ham United 121 91 1.33 15 6.07
5 Chelsea 118 93 1.27 8 11.63
2 Tottenham Hots 118 104 1.13 8 13.0
16 Brighton and Hove 116 105 1.10 12 8.75
17 Fulham 112 98 1.14 18 5.44
13 Newcastle Utd 111 84 1.32 17 4.94
6 Aston Villa * 99 90 1.10 14 6.43
3 Liverpool 99 76 1.30 7 10.86
19 Burnley * 95 79 1.20 11 7.18
11 Arsenal 94 79 1.19 11 7.18
14 Manchester Utd * 94 94 1.00 15 6.27
10 Manchester City * 90 79 1.14 12 6.58

* Four teams have played one fewer game than the rest at the close of play on Sunday.  This obviously affects their totals somewhat but not the key factors here we are looking at – the columns in bold which show the number of tackles per foul called by the referee, and the number of tackles completed before a yellow card is given.

Tackles: Tackles represents a style of play – a deliberate approach to the game, and so we would expect them to be static.  There are teams that tackle a lot and teams that don’t – clubs move by one or two places in the “tackles” column but no more.  There is consistency here.

Relationship between league position and number of tackles: Very little – tackling or not tackling is a style of play adopted by clubs from all parts of the league.

Fouling: Here there is a big range.  Top of the league Southampton commit 42% more fouls than Leeds, and it is obviously a tactic that works since they have got to the top of the league by doing that.  (It’s a shame the media never mention that).

Tackles per fouls: This is where the extraordinary variation comes.  Leeds can make twice as many tackles as Tottenham, Brighton, Fulham, Villa, Manchester United or Manchester City, before getting a foul called.

This is the sort of form we saw last season from Leicester, until suddenly it all fell apart for them.  If only broadcasters who have so much more in the way of resources than we do, would take this sort of thing seriously, we could find out even more, but I think they feel their audience wouldn’t understand the maths.

To be clear: Leeds put in far more tackles that other teams but get far fewer fouls called.  Now if this were a mark of genius by the players, other clubs would follow, but as with last season and Leicester, they don’t.  So this must be a PGMO / Leeds issue.  If only PGMO would talk we would know what it is.

But certainly for the moment every other team must know Leeds can tackle with comparative impunity.

Yellow cards: Leicester are picking up yellow cards like they have gone out of style – exactly the opposite of the opening period last season when they were allowed to tackle without fear because they rarely got punished.  Could it be that PGMO realise we tumbled what was going on, and issued the edict, “Untold is on to us, keep an eye on Leicester.”  Of course I am not seriously saying that is so, but I await an alternative explanation.

And to be clear although they are top of the yellow league, it is only by one card from Fulham.  It is not the number of cards, but the relationship to the number of fouls that is so odd.

Fouls per yellow card: This number can be high because the players are inept tacklers, or because the team is tackling a lot.  But the point is that Leicester are only getting 4.37 tackles in before they get a yellow – the total and absolute opposite of first half of last season.

So this is the second season in which Leicester’s figures have been weird.  In the first half of last season they were tackling far more than other clubs, and doing it with impunity.  Then suddenly it all changed (and it was not to do with an injury – the dates don’t match – but did coincide with the publication of our first tackles – fouls – yellows analysis).  The impunity vanished and the referees went for them.  The only explanation we have found, weird though it is, is that PGMO saw we have publicised the figures.

This season it is as if that approach from the second half of the season has continued – get Leicester each time they foul.

But the other weird figure we must mention is Tottenham.  They are committing 13 fouls before getting a yellow.  Poor old Newcastle can get away with under five fouls before the card comes out.  How can that be right?  Newcastle might have less skilled defenders, but not nearly three times less skilled.    That is really outside the limit.

I am very unsure about the idea that PGMO are reading Untold AND changing their tactics, but if they are, perhaps they could take a look at how Tottenham is achieving these figures.  Indeed every club in the league ought to be looking at these figures, and the way refs are treating them.

3 Replies to “Fouls, tackles and yellow cards. These figures are getting seriously weird”

  1. Last year we had some Liecster City fans comming here claiming our high ratio cards to fouls, in comparison to there low ratio of cards to fouls, was due to their superior technique in tackling. This was one explanation:

    Bob Jones

    5 September 2020

    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.


    Although I don’t agree with all he says some of his points hold water, while others do not. For example 1 of the 2 guys he cites as being their ‘best tacklers in the World’ is still out, and 1 has only played twice and has thus far avoided a caution. Their ‘World class tackling may well be being missed?

    But conversely he says this of Johnny Evens: “Evans is experienced and doesn’t give much away other than frustration at end of season”.

    Currently he’s played 5 for 4 yellows. Maybe he’s still frustrated? Or has he suddenly become a poor tackler? Or are Liecster still being refereed differently to that early part of last season ? And that is what is at the heart of this. What are these wild variations in tackles to fouls and fouls to cards ratios down to? Are they down to:

    a) Wild variations in players ability to tackle ?


    b) Wild variations in how different plyers/teams are refereed ?

    Personally, and it is just a personal point of view I think, although ‘a’ can have an impact, ‘b’ has the much bigger impact.

    Either way it is an extremely complex subject and requires an enormous amount of research to get to the bottom of it, for which we yet again have to thank Untold for leading the way.

  2. I’m certainly not knocking this type of study, indeed you will know I’ve done quite a bit in this area myself. However, I do have one fundamental question on this post.

    When you say that certain clubs are getting a foul called for virtually every single tackle, are you certain of this since it seems quite bizarre? I use a site called ‘Whoscored’ for my data but it certainly isn’t clear there that if a foul is called, whether it is still classed as a tackle or not. Or whether a tackle is only considered as such if it is completed without a foul being called. It certainly doesn’t change the basic premise of your argument but proportionately it does make things look potentially very different.

    Essentially, it would mean that Leeds had actually ‘attempted’ 242 tackles and Man U 188. As I say, this makes the difference less stark in some ways but I do not know whether the total for tackles includes ‘attempted tackles’ which are called as fouls, or not. Again it does not change the fact that season after season we see some teams treated more favourably than others for no discernible reason.

    The other thing, which I’ve mentioned before is how many cards are actually given for fouls. ‘Whoscored’ tell us that 100% of Leeds cards were for fouls but only 87.5% of Man U’s cards were for fouls. I know we can make this as complicated as we like but again the proportion between the two clubs reduces on that basis. (To take it further, of course, not every foul will be an attempted tackle. It could, for example, be a shirt pull or similar.

    I should also say that it is cards given for ‘other’ offences which has stood out for me. Without checking, I think Arsenal got twice as many cards for ‘other’ than the second highest club last season which then brings into question something very different to how we are treated by refs for our fouling! It meant we were in fact treated more harshly for more discretionary offences such as time wasting, ungentlemanly conduct etc etc. Such cards are rarely disputed since if given to one club they are legitimate but if not given to a different club, no eyebrows are raised. This situation appears to persist again this season with an above average number of cards given to us for ‘other’ offences. So even though we make fewer tackles than any other club and commit fewer fouls than all bar one, we still end up with an above average number of cards for ‘other’ offences. In fact 37.5% of our cards are for these ‘other’ offences despite clearly not being a ‘dirty’ side.

    For me, this is where it gets interesting. Now just bare in mind that most refs are from the north for a moment. Then look at the fact that the teams with 0% cards for ‘other’ offences are also from the north. Now who are the teams who get the most cards for ‘other offences’. They are Brighton 56%, Fulham, 55%, Palace 50%, the Spuds 40%, Arsenal 37.5%. Now I know we can’t conclude anything from such a small sample of games but as with many other stats involving refereeing in this country, it certainly suggests that this could be something out of the ordinary. Possibly, dare I say, a regional bias!

    Lucky for you (or unlucky if you’re easily bored by statistical evidence), I retire at the end of the month and will have a lot more time on my hands lol.

  3. @Mikey – That would appear to suggest that the referees are using “other” offences as a way of punishing us for not committing as many dirty tackles as the northern darlings. In other words, a leveller.

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