Why WHU can foul 3 times as much as Brighton before getting a yellow card

by Tony Attwood

It is time to return to the fraught issue of tackles, fouls and yellow cards.  If all was equal, then there would be a common ratio between the number of tackles that would result in a foul being called, and the number of fouls before a yellow card.

If all things were equal the number of fouls committed per yellow card given would be similar across the clubs.

But as things stand, Norwich can put in twice as many tackles as Aston Villa before having a tackle called as a foul.  Chelsea can commit almost three times as many fouls as Brighton before getting a yellow.  So what is going on?

Meanwhile the number of fouls called per team is also incredibly varied such that Watford have almost committed twice as many fouls as Norwich in the first seven games.

Now clearly committing fouls is not a good idea and so some clubs have worked on reducing the number of tackles they are putting in, per game.  Arsenal led the way on this, and since then Manchester United have reduced their tackle level to 85 thus far.   Top of the league for tackles is Brighton with 140 – about 65% higher.

The table below is in the order of fouls.  Watford are top with 102, Norwich bottom with 52.  So Watford are running about about double the rate of Norwich.  As for yellows, Burnley are top with 18, West Ham bottom with six.  So Burnley are running at treble the rate of West Ham when it comes to cards.

But this is not because Burnley commit many more fouls than West Ham.  In fact Burnley has only committed 11 more fouls than West Ham.  But Burnley has got 12 more yellow cards than West Ham.

Of course not all fouls are equal, but is it really likely that Norwich, having committed more tackles than Watford, have only committed half the number of fouls of Watford?  For Watford it is only 1.06 tackles before a foul is called.  For Norwich it is 2.31.

Brighton has committed around half the number of fouls as Watford but have been given the same number of yellows.  It all seems truly weird, and just how weird can be seen in the chart below looking at the number of fouls a club has to commit before it gets a yellow card.

The number ranges from 3.70 fouls for a yellow card for Brighton, to 9.00 for Chelsea and 10.00 for West Ham.  If you were a manager what would you sooner have?  And then, what would you do to achieve that?

Now I have watched a fair amount of football this season and I do not believe at all that Brighton’s fouling is nearly three times as bad as Chelsea’s or West Ham’s.  Brighton might be a little less adept at the tackling business, but not nearly three times worse.

As noted, this table is in the order of fouls (the blue column).  Clubs  that are suffering by getting yellow cards very quickly, are shown in the final column in red.

Tackles, Fouls and yellow cards
2021/2022 after 7 games
Position Team Tackles Fouls Tackles / foul Yellows Fouls / yellow
1 Watford 108 102 1.06 17 6.00
2 Crystal Palace 113 81 1.40 10 8.10
3 Aston Villa 91 81 1.12 15 5.40
4 Southampton 125 80 1.56 13 6.15
5 Liverpool 103 75 1.37 9 8.33
6 Wolverhampton Wanderers 130 72 1.81 13 5.54
7 Chelsea 117 72 1.63 8 9.00
8 Brentford 115 72 1.60 13 5.54
9 Burnley 106 71 1.49 18 3.94
10 Everton 126 69 1.83 13 5.31
11 Tottenham Hotspur 116 69 1.68 13 5.31
12 Manchester United 85 66 1.29 12 5.50
13 Manchester City 98 64 1.53 10 6.40
14 Leeds United 124 64 1.94 14 4.57
15 Brighton and Hove Albion 140 63 2.22 17 3.70
16 Newcastle United 123 61 2.01 15 4.01
17 West Ham United 112 60 1.87 6 10.0
18 Arsenal 102 59 1.73 10 5.90
19 Leicester City 127 58 2.18 10 5.80
20 Norwich City 120 52 2.31 11 4.72

It was this thinking that led Arsenal last season to start the long job of reducing the number of fouls that they commit by reducing the amount of tackling.

Now with a new defence in place the defenders are having to learn the task once again, as the habit of defending through tackling is hard to eradicate.  But even the slowest thinker among the Arsenal defence must realise that we are picking up yellow cards for around half the number of tackles that West Ham are achieving.

They will know, as well as any observer of Arsenal games, Arsenal cannot get away with tackles, so the fewer the better.

Arsenal are currently getting 1.43 yellow cards a game.  Last season it was 1.24 yellow cards a game, so we need to keep working to get the figure down to that level, and keep our players from being suspended or too scared to tackle when necessary.


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