By Tony Attwood
There is a general perception that teams that do well, foul the least. But as Evelyn Waugh might have said, that is true “Up to a point” – meaning that actually isn’t really true. Some of the teams that did rather well last season, achieved their success in part at least by fouling rather a lot.
It is generally assumed that teams at the bottom of the league foul a lot because their defenders are not that good, but the reality isn’t as simple as that. The top two fouling teams did get relegated (Fulham and Sheffield United), but the next four were Manchester United, Tottenham Hots, Aston Villa and Chelsea.
Here are the most fouling teams
|Position||Team||Total fouls by team||Fouls per game|
So the most fouling teams can be near the top or near the bottom of the league – fouling isn’t directly related to the success being had on the pitch.
The lowest fouling teams – are defined here as the teams that committed under 400 fouls in league matches last season.
As you will expect, if you have been reading Untold through the summer, and seeing just how extensively Arsenal reduced their tackling and thus their fouling, Arsenal were the cleanest team in the league last season.
|Club||Total fouls by team||Fouls per game by team|
|West Ham United||374||9.84|
So cutting fouling down doesn’t take a club up the league – although, Arsenal changed from being a high fouling team to a low fouling team in the first third of last season. During the transition period up to Christmas they were 15th in the league. In the remaining two thirds they were the second best team in the league.
That suggests that if they can keep up the low fouling approach they will be helped in regaining that “not a trophy” top four spot.
Now lets look at this the other way around. Which teams were the most fouled against.
|West Bromwich Albion||430|
|Brighton and Hove Albion||376|
|West Ham United||367|
There seems to be no rhyme or reason here. Why would Aston Villa be the most fouled against team in the league? We can understand that Sheffield United are fouled the least, they were such a poor team last season they hardly launched any attacks so no defenders needed to get near them.
But why do players lay off Liverpool and not foul them while launching into Aston Villa wholesale? Put it another way, Aston Villa were fouled 87% more than Sheffield United, and 60% more than Liverpool.
What is missing here is any sort of pattern. Clubs do not foul Liverpool very much and Manchester City only a modest amount but foul Aston Villa an extraordinary amount and Tottenham Hotspur a lot. Why?
Every team plays all the others twice, so there ought to be some balance, but here isn’t. Logic can explain Sheffield United being at the foot of the table.
There doesn’t seem to be a relationship between the clubs’ positions in the “fouls against” chart either in terms of points nor in terms of goals conceded.
And to sum it all up, why on earth would clubs need to be fouling Aston Villa that much? Aston Villa had the sixth highest number of shots in the league, so one can’t say they were a huge threat beyond everyone else which made the opposition close them down. And they scored the same number of goals as Arsenal.
Since there is nothing that can be proven with the figures (at least nothing I can see) one can only start considering other factors – such as the action of the referees. Do the referees tend to give more tackles against Aston Villa as fouls than they give for other teams? And if so why?
The only starting point I have on this are the curious figures from Leicester City the season before last, in which they were committing many, many more tackles that everyone else.
In fact this takes us right back to the very first set of analyses we did on this whole tackles, fouls and yellows issue, published in the article “How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards”on 6 February 2020.
It was at that point we realised that Leicester City tackled the most, but were 16th in the fouls league and only one team had fewer yellow cards that they did (Liverpool).
Our conclusion was that Leicester were tackling with impunity and for one reason or another referees were going along with this. And then immediately after our article the numbers collapsed – referees started treating them like normal clubs, the fouls given against them shot up, and they fell down the league table. (Arguments from their fans that this decline was due to a player injury were easily dealt with – the dates of their decline matched our article, but not the injury.)
The conclusion then was that Leicester were getting special treatment, and once we had pointed this out, it stopped (or maybe it was just a coincidence). No one could find any other explanation.
So I am now putting forward the hypothesis that for one reason or another referees feel that certain clubs are hard done by in tackling, and so give in to player claims for a free kick more readily than they do with other clubs.
I am not suggesting any bribery is taking place, just that referees, closeted together in the PGMO and regularly refereeing the same club over and over, tend to feel Villa are kicked about, just as they used to feel that Leicester’s tackling, although off the chart compared to other clubs, was all completely fair and above board.
I shall look forward to alternative explanations with interest – and next season’s figures.
The great refereeing scandal
- Excellent newspaper article proves ref bias and points to media complicity in hiding it
- The shocking statistics on how referees have affected Arsenal’s league position
- Leicester’s strange tackle / foul / yellow figures change as they slip down the league
- “Disgraceful;” “The worst refereeing performance I have ever seen”. TalkSport
- Now is the time to investigate the refereeing system in the Premier League
- Why do Liverpool keep getting the same referees?
- Is Premier League refereeing very different from other major European leagues?
- The openness of German referees raises the question, what have the PGMO got to hide?
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- Does the team that is top after 14 games usually go on to win the league?
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