by Tony Attwood
The average number of penalties awarded to teams in the Premier League so far this season is fractionally over two per club. That is around one every four games this season.
But there is one club that is getting awarded penalties at a rate of four times as many penalties as you might expect.
And here is an oddity: the team that has received by far the largest number of yellow cards this season is also the team that has been awarded penalties in their favour at a rate of four times the average. And no penalties are given against them!
Let’s just get that straight. The club gets far more yellow cards than anyone else and yet doesn’t have a single penalty given against it. Its fouls are deemed serious enough that it has to commit far fewer fouls than other teams to get a yellow card given, and yet it doesn’t give away any penalties!!!
At the same time, while some clubs have not had a single penalty awarded in their favour this season, this team has already had eight penalties in its favour.
The team is, as you might have guess, Leicester City. The club whose numbers we were forced to investigate in depth last season – and I say forced because a) no one else published any analysis of their statistics, b) those stats looked very fishy indeed and c) when we did investigate we got abuse.
So, let’s go through it step by step.
When it comes to tackling, Leicester are a little above average but not much. They have undertaken 132 tackles in league games, and are eighth in terms of the number of tackles undertaken this season.
When it comes to the number of tackles per foul awarded against them they are 13th. They have committed 132 tackles, had 83 fouls given against them, meaning one foul every 1.59 tackles. That is pretty much around the average for the league.
But some of those tackles must be very rash or nasty, because Leicester have 19 yellow cards this season. That’s the most of any club. It’s not way out in front of everyone (Fulham have 18, Newcastle 17, Everton, West Ham and Manchester United each have 15) but it is top.
But when we look at how many fouls a club is allowed to get away with before getting a yellow card, they are at the extreme. 4.37 fouls to bring a yellow card. To give an example at the other extreme Tottenham are committing 13 fouls in order to get a yellow card.
So, putting this together, Leicester are not extreme in tackling nor in the number of fouls they commit, but they are way out in front for yellow cards. Those tackles must be something else!
Which might lead us to believe that they would also be giving away penalties – but no. Not one. While five clubs have conceded five penalties, tough tackling Leicester have not conceded one. 19 yellow cards (more than anyone else) but they are one of only three clubs not to concede a single penalty!
That might make a certain amount of sense if we take it that they have set up tactically to tackle like mad just in front of the penalty box, so that no player from the opposition gets a chance to get into the box. That would explain 19 yellow cards to Leicester while a quarter of the clubs in the league have fewer than half that number.
But what that doesn’t explain is that when they get down the other end, they are getting on average one penalty a game. And since they have scored seven out of eight of those penalties, we can say that they are more or less being given a goal a game start. Play Leicester and they are a goal up before you kick off, because they will get a penalty but not concede one.
So what are they doing?
It is an interesting point because when we first did this type of analysis last season, it was once again Leicester that came out with the weird numbers. Only last season, in February, we wondered in an article “How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards”
Now when we did that analysis we found that Leicester tackled far more than any other club, but were right near the bottom of the table for fouls committed, and the only club that got fewer yellow than they did was Liverpool. Most tackles fewest yellows. Clever.
Then after we had published those numbers, either Leicester’s tactics started to change, or the referees started to pay more attention, for 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. And gradually Leicester’s league position fell apart.
So last season it was most fouls, fewest yellows, until we published our data and then the number of yellows started going up.
But now, this season after just eight games Leicester City have been awarded more penalties (8) than they got in the whole of last season (7)!
To summarise; the Leicester figures
2019/20 before figures were published: Most tackles, fewest yellows, challenging near top of league.
2019/20 after figures were published: Huge decline in tackles, many more yellows, slip down the league.
2020/21 after 8 games: Most yellow cards against them, but also most penalties awarded in their favour.
And this is all about one team – and not because I have got something against Leicester, but because their figures stand out from everyone else’s.
True, other commentators are not mentioning it, but then statistics are not popular in football. Yes we have the league table, but journalists love to do this thing about themselves and the fans not being interested in stats. I think that’s nonsense, but that’s what they say.
Leicester have decided not to try last season’s tactics again, but referees have been made aware of their tactics (or are aware that we are analysing the figures, whichever interpretation you wish), hence the high number of yellow cards.
But Leicester have worked out a way to get penalties. Eight penalties in eight games is utterly astonishing. Last season only three teams got eight or more penalties across all 38 league games (Man U 14, Man C 11, Watford 8). This season Leicester have reached eight penalties in eight games. At this rate they will get 38 by the end of the season.
Are the referees aware of this change of tactic?
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