How some teams get penalised so much more than others by the refs

By Tony Attwood

For our next look at the statistics no one else wants to publish (tackles, fouls and yellow cards) we are now looking at the top six clubs (listed below in order) and seeing how their stats compare.  We’ve also included Tottenham (so we can see if their new manager makes a difference) and Leicester (whose figures in the past have looked really odd).

For the ratios in the last three columns, do remember that clubs are aiming for ever higher numbers.

Club Tackles Fouls Yellows Tackle/Foul Tackle/yellow Foul/yellow
Chelsea 168 106 11* 1.58 15.27 9.63
Liverpool 142 101 11* 1.41 12.90 9.18
Man C 132 92 16 1.43 8.25 5.75
WHU 168 87 12 1.93 14.00 7.25
Man U 121* 107 24 1.13 5.04 4.46
Arsenal 139 94 13 1.48 10.69 7.23
Tottenham 177 89 17 1.99 10.41 5.23
Leicester 168 78* 13 2.15 12.92 6.00

*Lowest in the league for this criteria

Our argument is that of course different clubs use different tactics, and that some players are adept at tackling without fouling while others are not.  But as a general rule we would expect the club that tackles most to give away the most fouls, and the club that gives away the most fouls should also be given the most yellows.

Now we started this analysis when we noticed that Leicester were tackling like mad but hardly getting any yellows which is why we still keep an eye on them.    And this sort of strange variation continues.  Just consider these facts:

  • Leicester can commit almost twice as many tackles as Manchester United before any of them is given as a foul.
  • Chelsea can commit three times as many tackles as Manchester United before getting a yellow card.
  • Chelsea and Liverpool can commit twice as many fouls as Manchester United before getting a yellow card.

It’s not a good time to support Manchester United while denying PGMO has a part to play in any of this.

So how can we explain this?

I suspect that it goes like this.   Arsenal led the way last season it cutting their yellow card level in half by cutting out tackling.  They did it, it was a great success as their yellow cards went down by 45%.

That clearly is the tactic Manchester United are attempting to replicate this season, but it is all going wrong.  They are cutting their tackling rate, but referees are calling fouls and yellow cards more often.

So who is benefiting?

Looking at the figures overall we can see that Chelsea, Liverpool and West Ham have got the stats absolutely running in their favour.  They are tackling a lot, but getting modest numbers of fouls against them and yellow cards against them.

Arsenal however have taken a route similar to Manchester City (which is not surprising when you think of where the manager came from).    As a result the tackles, fouls and yellow card figures for both clubs are very similar.  And amazingly, Arsenal can now commit more fouls per yellow card than Manchester City.

It appears to me that the Manchester United problem is that they have gone down the route of reducing tackling, but when they do tackle, the referee tends to give it as a foul.   It is almost as if they have copied Arsenal’s “reduce tackling” mantra without actually buying in defenders who know how to do it.

The reduction in tackling doesn’t work if everyone is told not to tackle.  Rather it has to be that certain key players who are good tacklers are the only ones allowed to tackle.  The rest aim to intercept again some Manchester United don’t seem to be so good at.  

Now we know that Arsenal, because of their wholesale change of defenders took a while to get the new tactical approach sorted out, hence the early defeats.  But if we look at the league table from the last six games – which means the league matches by which time the clubs have pretty much got their tactics sorted out – what we see is a huge difference in the number of goals conceded by Leicester, Manchester United and Tottenham, compared with the other clubs.

Premier League Form (Last 6)
Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Chelsea 6 5 0 1 17 2 15 15
2 Arsenal 6 4 2 0 11 4 7 14
4 Liverpool 6 3 3 0 20 7 13 12
5 West Ham United 6 4 0 2 10 6 4 12
6 Manchester City 6 3 2 1 9 5 4 11
7 Leicester City 6 2 2 2 11 11 0 8
14 Manchester United 6 2 1 3 8 12 -4 7
17 Tottenham Hots 6 2 0 4 6 13 -7 6

Manchester United have really poor figures for tackles per foul, fouls per yellow card and thus of course tackles per yellow card figures.  And in the last six games they have conceded three times as many goals as Arsenal.

Tottenham are getting away with lots of tackles before a foul is committed, but they have the second worse fouls per yellow figures and have conceded over three times as many goals as Arsenal in the last six games.

As a result a certain nervousness comes in which is why those three clubs have all conceded around three times as many goals as Arsenal in the last six games.

Arsenal’s handling of tackles, fouls and yellow cards is not as adept as other clubs but we are getting there – aided by Arteta’s choice of defenders.   It may well be that Manchester City are already looking at Arsenal and wondering just how come we now have a better foul to yellow card ratio than they do.


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