Chelsea v Arsenal: Tackles, fouls and yellow cards

By Bulldog Drummond

We had quite a debate recently after a reader tried to convince us all that the analysis of tackles, fouls and yellow cards was pointless when “everybody knows cards are a product of quality and not quantity of fouls.”

Actually, not everyone knew this, simply because it is completely untrue, as the yellow card figures and the tackle figures from the Premier League’s own site clearly show.  So while undoubtedly that reader has meandered off into the distance to talk nonsense elsewhere, we are still looking at the link between tackles, fouls and yellows.

And for this game, following that earlier debate we’ve not only looked at Arsenal and Chelsea who play tonight, but also the club with the most tackles, fouls and yellows (Leeds in all three cases) and the club with the least in all three cases (Manchester City).

Plus we always need to look at Leicester who have regularly had some very strange figures indeed – figures which are way out of line with everyone else.

Now it is of course true that the Leicester figures could be explained by the “quality” of the tackle to explain why they are the club that tackles the seventh-most, but get almost (within two in fact) the lowest number of fouls against them.

But in achieving this they are real outliers, and it would seem logical if they can do this without bending the rules or needing the co-operation of the referees, others would follow.  But despite three years of these figures other clubs don’t follow this highly valuable tactic.  Which is odd. 

To be clear Leicester have had figures that are different from everyone else for about three years now, and no one else has tried to copy them.   Why?

A look at the crude figures, which is all anyone else publishes, don’t really tell the full story…

Club Tackles Fouls Yellows
Arsenal 445 (19th) 295 (17th) 46 (16th)
Chelsea 478 (16th) 324 (11th) 48 (14th)
Most 665 (Leeds) 389 (Leeds) 91 (Leeds)
Least 397 (Man City) 270 (Man City) 36 (Man City)
Leicester 546 (7th) 272 (19th) 42 (17th)

So let us now look at the all-important relationships.   How many tackles each club puts in per foul, how many tackles per yellow card, and how many fouls per yellow card.

Club Tackles/foul Tackles/yellow Foul/yellow
Arsenal 1.51 9.67 6.41
Chelsea 1.48 9.96 6.75
Leeds 1.71 7.31 4.27
Leicester 2.01 13.00 6.48
Manchester City 1.47 11.02 7.50

These relationships are where the underlying truths are to be found, and if we have a look at Arsenal and Chelsea we can see the numbers are close.   Chelsea tend to be fractionally more penalised than Arsenal for tackles, but then can commit slightly more tackles before they get a yellow card.  As a result, Arsenal commit slightly fewer fouls than Chelsea in order to get a yellow card.

The real oddballs in this however are Leeds, Leicester and Manchester City.  Leeds have a style of play that involves undertaking the most tackles, committing the most fouls and getting the most yellow cards.  On the surface this seems a ludicrous tactic, and yet as a result they can commit more tackles before they have a foul given against them than the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, so it seems to have a certain validity.

But where it goes wrong for Leeds is in the number of yellow cards they get.  However, they compensate for this by a wholesale rotational fouling programme, so that only two of the top 20 players with yellow cards are from Leeds.  Yes, they commit more tackles and fouls than any other PL team, but because they engage in rotational fouling, those cards are spread out among the players.

For tonight’s game the issue of referee interference is likely to be balanced as the tackles, fouls and yellow card numbers show.   But let us pause for a moment to contemplate this.

  • For every tackle Arsenal put in they are 75% more likely to get a foul against them than Leicester.
  • For every tackle Arsenal put in they are 34% more likely to get a yellow card against them than Leicester.

Of course as was argued three years ago, Leicester might have better tacklers than every other team in the league.  But I was not sure that was true then, nor that it is true now.  But fortunately for everyone the differences between the two clubs playing tonight are much smaller.

One Reply to “Chelsea v Arsenal: Tackles, fouls and yellow cards”

  1. The way to eliminate rotational fouling is to punish the team as a collective when the foul count is excessive by calling the captain over and warning him the next player from his team to commit a foul, even if it’s a sub who has only been on the pitch for a minute, will get a yellow card.
    Of course the teams like Burnley who target certain players like Saka and constantly foul to disrupt the other teams superior skill level won’t like it but who cares.
    It’s what they do in rugby and it usually works.

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