Why are WHU players fouled so rarely and Villa players fouled so often?

by Tony Attwood


Aston Villa were the most fouled club in the Premier League last season with players from the opposition committing 512 fouls against them in the Leaguem.  Meanwhile West Ham were the least fouled club with just 292 fouls against them.

This is an enormous difference, and worthy of a spot more contemplation, and since no one else has tackled this I thought we might have a look.

Foul position Team Total fouls by opposition Fouls committed per game by the opposition Injury per 1000 mins played
14 Aston Villa 512 13.47 7.6
12 Crystal Palace 500 13.16 3.3
20 Norwich C 443 11.66 7.2
4 Tottenham H 412 10.84 6.2
3 Chelsea 405 10.66 5.9
8 Leicester C 405 10.66 7.9
16 Everton 401 10.55 11.4
17 Leeds U 386 10.16 10.1
11 Newcastle U 382 10.05 9.3
13 Brentford 377 9.92 5.2
15 Southampton 377 9.92 6.2
5 Arsenal 376 9.89 5.1
9 Brighton & HA 372 9.79 8.2
19 Watford 363 9.55 10.1
10 Wolverhampton 354 9.32 4.6
1 Manchester C 341 8.97 4.9
18 Burnley 339 8.92 7.5
6 Manchester U 333 8.76 7.2
2 Liverpool 311 8.18 6.4
7 West Ham U 292 7.68 4.5

The difference between the top and bottom of this table is enormous.  Aston Villa get almost twice as many fouls against them per match as West Ham do. 

So why are clubs almost twice as likely to foul Aston Villa players as they are to foul West Ham players?   In the next table we take a look at Aston Villa, the most fouled team, and West Ham, the least fouled team, as well as Arsenal (the 12th most fouled team), to see if there is any pattern in terms of the fouls these teams commit.  Figures are for the whole of the 2021/2 season

Club Tackles Fouls Yellow cards
Arsenal 540 (18th) 363 (15th) 60 (13th)
Aston Villa 634 (8th) 401 (6th) 79 (2nd)
West Ham 534 (19th) 324 (19th) 47 (19th)

And here we now see something incredibly strange.  Aston Villa had the highest number of fouls committed against them last season, and they themselves got the second-highest number of yellow cards.  West Ham United committed the least number of fouls against the opposition and had the lowest number of fouls committed against them.

Why and how is that happening?

More analysis needs to be done here but it would appear from these few figures that teams are able to some degree to set the pattern of yellow cards in a game.

The thesis is that if one team commits lots of fouls and so starts picking up yellow cards, the opposition are also more likely to pick up yellow cards.  This could of course be because the regularly fouling team inflames the passions of the opposition players who commit fouls in retaliation, or it could be that referees feel that having given six fouls against one team they need to balance it up a bit by giving some fouls against the opposition.

To imagine this working in practice, let us consider West Ham against Leeds.  West Ham committed 324 fouls in the season against Leeds United’s 469 fouls.  That is a difference of just under four fouls per game.

So West Ham play Leeds and the referee finds that he is giving several fouls against Leeds players but not against West Ham players.   If the game is at Ellend Road the pressure on him might be to even things up a bit (as various items of research reported on this blog have shown) so when a West Ham player delivers a tackle that maybe was a foul or maybe not, the referee is more inclined to call it as a foul because he’s already been penalising Leeds for fouls several times in the game.

Now that may seem ludicrous and unprofessional, but given that we have seen how much referees are influenced by the crowd in terms of awarding fouls against teams, and indeed influencing the result of matches in favour of the home team because of crowd noise, this must be a perfectly viable hypothesis.

This in turn means that the clubs (which analyse everything in the game) will be fully aware of the scenario and will adjust their playing style according to the team they are playing.

But here’s one thing to contemplate: Everton, and Leeds got more injuries per 1000 minutes played than other clubs.  Everton and Leeds also committed the most tackles last season.  Tackling might be seen as a good way to defend, but considering where Everton and Leeds ended up last season, and considering that teams that tackled far less picked up more points and got fewer injuries, it is no surprise that Mr Arteta introduce the “no tackling” policy two season ago, with such great effect.



3 Replies to “Why are WHU players fouled so rarely and Villa players fouled so often?”

  1. The word “foul” has changed its meaning in recent years. If a player feels the slightest contact and dives to the floor most referees blow the whistle. Players on both sides in the Germany v England game were shocked when the referee refused to give them free kicks when they chose to hit the floor in what is now the normal way. Personally I was delighted. The point is the foul count you refer to is, I would argue, massively overstated. It also make no distinction between a dive and a leg breaker.

  2. A foul is a foul whether it’s a big push or a little push it’s still a foul , it’s what the referee deems a foul which then comes back to home and away bias and he’s interpretation of everything that goes on during a game .
    I thought the referee during the England v Italy was consistent with he’s decisions , was that maybe because of very little crowd noise .

  3. @ Jod

    As I’ve pointed out on a number of occasions (to no avail), yellow cards are also given for offences which are not fouls. Until these are factored out, or at least acknowledged within any comparison, trying to suggest that tackles, fouls and yellows are directly related is somewhat speculative to say the least.

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