Fouls, penalties and free kicks: there’s something odd going on somewhere

By Tony Attwood

In December 2020 Untold ran the story, Leicester heading for all-time record number of penalties, which pointed out that they had already got nine penalties awarded in their favour.  As we said at that point, because of the late start to the season, clubs were only 37% of the way through their fixtures, so at that rate Leicester wouold get 24 penalties this season.

The season before the top club for penalties was Manchester United with 14.  So Leicester’s figures were starting to look very weird.  The weirdest ever in fact because no club had ever got anything like 24 penalties in their favour in a season.

We also came up with an explanation for the figure, and that was the way Vardy was playing by running with the ball in the penalty area and then suddenly reversing his direction when there was no attacking benefit to him in doing this.  It would often leave a defender who had been chasing him but would not be expecting the change of direction, clattering into the forward, and so giving away a penalty.

The point here was that Vardy’s change of direction was of no benefit to him – generally the reverse because it took him away from the goal, but it gained the penalty because the chasing defender was not expecting the move.

But whether by coincidence or because someone in authority read our review, or maybe someone else by chance happened to undertake the same analysis at the same time as we did, Leicester didn’t get that record number of penalties.

They did get more than any other club, but it was only 12.   So in the first 37% of the season they got nine, and the last 63% of the season, three more.  Odd that.

But what happened since?

In 2021/22 the teams that got the most penalties were Chelsea and Manchester City both with nine.  Leicester City, their little Vardyesque ploy having been spotted, got just two penalties awarded in their favour.  12 in 15 games in one sequence one season.  Two in 38 games the next season.  It is indeed a funny ol’ game.

Of course, some have questioned our analysis of what it was that led to thse penalties at the start of the season, but the number of penalties cannot be questioned.  Nine penalties in the first 37% of 2020/21 for Leicester, two for the whole of 2021/22.  (Oh yes, and not a word about it at all in the media, despite how curious the figures were).

Which to some extent explains why we keep on looking at statistics because occasionally they do reveal what a funny ol’ game football really is.

For example, we might ask, what did West Ham, Liverpool, Manchester United and Burnley have in common last season?  Not league position obviously since Liverpool were second and Burnley 18th.   But rather that the opposition fouled them fewer teams than any other teams.

And this wasn’t by a few fouls.  It was by a huge number.

League Position Team Free kicks and penalties awarded for fouls against
7 West Ham United 292
2 Liverpool 311
6 Manchester  United 333
18 Burnley 339

Looking at the other end of the table here are the teams that get the most fouls against them…

League Position Team Free kicks and penalties awarded for fouls against
3 Chelsea 405
4 Tottenham 412
20 Norwich 443
12 Crystal Palace 500
14 Aston Villa 512

The difference between top and bottom is huge.  Aston Villa had 75% more fouls against them than West Ham during the season.

So why do players of other teams keep fouling the players of Palace and Villa?  What makes them do it?

The resultant free kicks must have given Palace and Villa quite a benefit, for these free kicks are awarded when the team is attacking.   Chelsea and Tottenham clearly gained significant benefit in their push at the top of the league, with all those free kicks.  Helping them into third and fourth positions in fact.

And let me stress this is fouls against these teams, just like it was fouls against Vardy in the box that gave Leicester that astonishing level of penalties which no one but Untold ever mentioned.

So why are teams such as Chelsea, Tottenham, Norwich, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa being awarded so many free-kicks for fouls against them?  Do teams really go out to kick them to pieces, or do their players fall over more readily?

Could it be another Vardy-esque situation?

Normally (when we are not in the strange Vardy-esque world) there is not a very direct relationship between penalties and goals scored.  This table below is in order of goals scored, then showing the number of those goals that were penalties.  Top is 16% of goals scored being penalties – that achieved by Crystal Palace.  Without those penalities they would have finished considerably below 12th.

Lge Pos Penalty pos Team Total goals Penalties
1 1 Manchester City 99 9
2 2 Liverpool 94 8
3 3 Chelsea 76 9
4 4 Tottenham Hotspur 69 5
8 5 Leicester City 62 2
5 6 Arsenal 61 8
7 7 West Ham United 60 6
6 8 Manchester United 57 5
14 9 Aston Villa 52 3
12 10 Crystal Palace 50 8

So there is a relationship between league position and the number of penalties given – the top eight clubs for penalties were also the top eight in the league.  Only after that does the relationship fall down, but that old Vardy trick might still be resting in some players’ minds.

5 Replies to “Fouls, penalties and free kicks: there’s something odd going on somewhere”

  1. How about you answer the question that my fellow fans are sick off. Why are panalties counted as part of the season/ lifetime total? How come Kane gets bracketed with Lniker, Charlton, Greaves and Roony without his penalties being shown in brackets? This would give us a much better idea who was the most natural goalscorer, and back up mt thoughts that it was Jimmy Greaves. Im a Gunner of 70+ years but cannot forget how great he was.

  2. Is it really hard to believe that better teams, which tend to have more of the ball in dangerous areas, would wind uo with more penalties awarded than teams that sit back and defend? This strikes me as common sense. Teams that have the ball more, tend to be fouled more frequently in dangerous areas, largely because they have more of the ball in those areas than their opponents.

  3. Kane is probably worse than Vardy in “buying” penalties, with his team-mate Son probably his nearest rival in this activity.

    The England penalty against Germany this week was a further example of Kane “using all his experience ..etc”, or to put it in more simple terms “cheating”

  4. @ John L ref. England vs Germany. Classic Kane: Off-side + Dive + Penalty + VAR (:-( !
    His teammate Son = Ex aequo (Equal). (:-(( + (:-(( .

  5. Really sick of the penalty situation in the league. VAR hasn’t helped at all. The VAR ref is one of the regulars. This needs to be addressed. The biases they exhibit on the pitch are also manifest in their ‘reviews’. Can a neutral group be found? Also, I’ll bring it up. The effect of the media on the refs and calls. Whichever squad or squads is the current media darlings will get the call. Remember ’16 when Leicester City won the title? I think Vardy took more PK’s than entire teams that season. And the win nothing but always special Spurs? As I said earlier, sick of it.

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