Untold called the Chelsea v Arsenal game right. But how did we do it?

By Tony Attwood (in crowing mood).

If you are a regular reader you will know that through this very odd season we have been focusing in our match previews on two areas that few, if any, of the other blogs, the newspapers and the broadcast media ever look at, at all.

One is the year-long analysis of tackles, fouls, and yellow cards – three elements of the game that are clearly linked and in which referees have a major impact.  In fact now we think of it, it is extremely odd that no one else ever compared these three elements of the game, but that’s the media for you.

The other involves looking at a forthcoming match not by comparing the results of the two clubs and their position in the league table, as the media always do, but rather their position in the league table vis a vis where the game is being played.  And this we’ve done because this season, uniquely, the home/away balance has been reversed.

To take that point first, prior to this match we looked at the record this season of Arsenal away and Chelsea at home in the article “Chelsea v Arsenal: there’s only three points between us.” and ran this table

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
5 Chelsea home 17 8 6 3 29 16 13 30
7 Arsenal away 17 8 3 6 27 17 10 27

And so the obvious point was made that the records are very similar – the difference being only that in three games Chelsea at home had drawn, while we had lost, thus giving a difference across the season of three points.  What’s more the difference in goals across these 17 games was also just three.

The second table we ran covered the much more contentious issue  of tackles, fouls, and yellow cards

Club Tackles Fouls Tackles/fouls Yellow cards Fouls/yellows
Chelsea 571 399 1.43 44 9.07
Arsenal 420 322 1.30 45 7.16

This all started when, last season, we noticed that Leicester’s figures in this table were utterly out of line with every other team – they were putting in massively more tackles than anyone else, but had a foul and yellow card rate way, way below what would be expected

One of our first tables on the subject was published in our article on 20 February last year which included this alarming table…

It shows in column three how many tackles clubs have to make in order to have a foul called by the referee.   In column four it shows how many fouls are called before a yellow card is given.

Pos Team Tackle/ Fouls Fouls/ Yellows
1 Liverpool 1.90 8.33
2 Manchester City 1.43 5.21
3 Leicester City 2.08 9.48
4 Chelsea 1.82 5.31
5 Tottenham Hotspur 1.79 4.46
6 Sheffield United 1.61 5.36
7 Manchester United 1.45 5.68
8 Wolverhampton W 1.63 6.82
9 Everton 1.60 6.55
10 Arsenal 1.61 4.32

Leicester were getting away with many more tackles through a game without getting a foul called against them.  That was odd enough but even the fouls that were called against them were not getting yellow carded.  As a result they could commit more than double the number of fouls that Arsenal did before they got a yellow.   Arsenal could barely move on the pitch before the ref would start the booking process.

As a result of this Leicester fans went into overdrive, but it was later in the season that the real fun began, because subsequent to this analysis (which of course the media at large would not touch, probably because a) football fans don’t understand statistics and b) there is nothing amiss with refereeing) showed that from this point, Leicester’s tackle per foul ratio declined, and their fouls per yellow card ratio shot up.

If you followed our story you might recall that Leicester fans rose up against us, calling us every name and saying the explanation was the injury of one super tackler.  We looked, but there was no connection between the date of his injury and the date of the change in the way Leicester started getting fouls given against them, and yellow cards.  The change in ref tactics followed our article.

So Untold felt a sense of triumph there, and ever since we have, alone among those who comment on football, followed the tackles, fouls, yellow card stats.  And we highlighted before yesterday’s game that “Chelsea has put in 151 more tackles than Arsenal and have got fewer yellow cards than Arsenal.  Every Chelsea tackle is less likely to get a foul given than an Arsenal tackle.  Every Chelsea foul is less likely to get a yellow card than Arsenal.”

The Leicester experience last season gave us a sliver of hope that where we could expose dodgy refereeing, we might be able to have a little impact, and so we’ve run these figures all season long.

The home/away comparison again turned out to be the best indicator of how close the game might be, and the tackles, fouls and yellows stats reminded the PGMO that a closer attention to detail than normal would be in order for this game.

And so it was.

Of course it wasn’t just us – it was self-evidently the players and the management that created the result.  But as with the Leicester lunacy last season, by highlighting what the referees get up to, and by running a very simple home/away comparison, we were able to get the feel of the game ahead of the match, in the way that I am not sure many other people previewing the game, could do.

The video collection series

Gaslighting: how refereeing in the Premier League is manipulated, and why the media never speak about it.

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