By Tony Attwood
The table below relates to the number of tackles, fouls and yellow cards per game in the Premier League , with all clubs except Burnley and Everton having played four league matches. Those two clubs are on three games.
The table is in descending order of fouls called by the referee per game, and it is easy to see just from the raw figures that while the fouls per game descend neatly (as that is how we have set it out) there is not much relationship between the number of fouls called by the ref and the number of tackles and yellow cards.
However if a club feels it is getting too many yellow cards the only things it can do to reduce this is cut the number of tackles or train its players to be better tacklers. The latter looks like being a much longer process than the former, and of course is also dependent on the vagaries of the referees.
Therefore the approach to reducing the number of tackles has settled in as a way of moving up the table and reducing the influence referees can have on the game.
|Position||Team||Tackles per game||Fouls per game||Yellows per game|
|13||Brighton and Hove||19||9.25||2|
|17||West Ham United||17||8.25||0.5|
If you are a long time reader you will know that it was the extraordinary figures of Leicester City that started us on the journey of examining the relationship between tackles, fouls and yellow cards in December 2019. For at that time Leicester’s figures for yellow cards against the number of tackles, were quite unlike the figures for any other team. And they were challenging Liverpool at the top of the league table.
At that time Leicester were getting far, far fewer fouls given against them per tackle, and far fewer yellow cards per foul. This seemed to give them a feeling of impunity, as they undertook over 150 more tackles than Arsenal this season while picking up, by that point just 19 yellow cards. Arsenal on the other hand had 72 at that moment!
As I wrote at the time (and recent critics now seem to ignored) “you can argue that Arsenal’s fouls are far, far worse than Leicester’s. Indeed you might say that Arsenal’s fouls are consistently twice as bad as Leicester’s. So they get more than twice as many yellow cards. Arsenal get a yellow card for approximately every seven tackles. Leicester get a yellow card for every 17 tackles.”
The Leicester oddity was then made odder as suddenly the number of fouls given against them shot up. Some Leicester correspondents said this was because of injury to their main tackler, but the dates were checked and did not coincide.
But when we look at the clubs that have cut the number of tackles most successfully we can see there is a significant range of what happens as a result.
|Team||Tackles per game||Fouls per game||Yellows per game|
|Aston Villa||12.75||11.75 (1)||2.75 (2)|
Leicester have now changed totally, cutting the number of tackles per game (not to the lowest but to a lower part of the league as measured by tackles) and have cut their number of fouls, and their number of yellows cards.
Aston Villa must be wondering what they have done wrong. They undertake 20% fewer tackles that Leicester but get 75% more fouls against them, and 175% more yellows.
Arsenal have finally got their tackling down to Liverpool’s level – 13.5 per game, and indeed are being called out for fouls at a lower level than Liverpool but still get a higher number of yellow cards. Why won’t referees give Liverpool yellow cards?
In statistical terms Arsenal commit 83% of the number of fouls that Liverpool but Arsenal get 300% of the number of yellow cards of Liverpool. Put more simply – we tackle far less than Liverpool, get fewer fouls given against us than Liverpool, but get three times as many yellow cards.
That is obviously part of Arsenal’s problem, but quite how they can overcome this, I am still not sure!
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