Why do Crystal Palace players get fouled so often?

By Bulldog Drummond

In 2021/22 Crystal Palace players were fouled 500 times in Premier League matches – more than any other team than Aston Villa.

And not just more, but a lot more.  In fact Palace players suffered a third more fouls upon them than Arsenal did.

So the question arises, why do Palace players get fouled so much more than the players of other teams?   And remember, this is not just a little bit more, but a huge amount more.  71% more than West Ham players for example.

Now the first thing to say that the data comes from Footstats – the site which has the data which is quoted whenever a journalist or broadcaster wants to discuss the number of fouls, corners, goals, shots etc etc etc.

But what they don’t do is offer explanations – so we don’t know from them how it can be that Palace players are fouled so much more than players of all other clubs except Villa.

The first thing to note is that the rest of the stats look fairly normal.  The number of tackles the club can make itself before a foul is given looks reasonable, and the number of tackles they make before a yellow card is given is midway between the extremes of Leeds and Manchester City,  So as you would expect the number of fouls they make before a yellow is given is between the extremes of the always fouling Leeds and the rarely fouling Manchester City.

But the big point is that how many fouls a club commits is in the hands of the players of that club.  But when it comes to the number of times a club is fouled by the opposition, surely this is down to the opposition.

Except that with Palace everyone seems to foul their players more and more.

One might think this comes from possession – after all a club that has possession more than most is a club that is going to be fouled more, but again this doesn’t add up.   Manchester City had the most possession with 68.2% during the season.  Palace were 10th – exactly midway – with 50.8%.

So again the question remains: how could a team that has an average amount of possession get fouled so much more than anyone else.  And it is a lot, lot more, as this table shows.

Fouls committed by Opposition
Position Team Total Per Game
1 West Ham 292 7.68
2 Liverpool 311 8.18
3 Man United 333 8.76
18 Norwich 443 11.66
19 Crystal Palace 500 13.16
20 Aston Villa 512 13.47

Now you will note that the distance between the Palace figure of 500 fouls committed against it, and the teams just above (Norwich and Tottenham) is large.  Palace had 57 more fouls against their players than Norwich and as we have noted a third more than Arsenal.

So what is going on?

One explanation is that players from other clubs go out to foul Palace players because (in the immortal words of Corporal Jones) “they don’t like it up ’em”.  That however seems unlikely because it not only means that this story of Palace not liking being fouls circulates but that most other clubs buy into it.   And given the level of technology on offer to all teams, that seems unlikely.

A second explanation is that the players of Palace deliberately invite fouls to be made against them – for example by taunting the opposition or by allowing the ball to be a little further away from their feet so as to invite the dodgy tackle.   It is possible, but given the level of videoing going on, one would expect other clubs to spot this and instruct their players accordingly not to tackle.

A third is that the referees have been bought by Palace.  Again I am doubtful.  We know that referees take different attitudes toward different teams, but for this to happen on such a wholesale basis seems a little unlikely.  Possible when it comes to a few referees but unlikely across the board.

Fourth one could argue that this is just a coincidence.  When a table is constructed clubs have to be somewhere in it, and so one club has to be top and one bottom.

Now this fourth point leads to an interesting revelation, for if we go back to 2020/21 we find that Aston Villa were once again the most fouled team with almost 70 more fouls against them than the next most fouled team.  But Palace were only the 16th most fouled team.  The number of fouls against them went up by 62 from two years ago to last year.   Again one could argue that this was targeted, but that would still suggest a unified action by a lot of clubs.

Fifth, it could be the manager.   We know that when Vieira played for Arsenal the opposition would deliberately try to get him sent off, with endless niggling tackles.  Could it be that some clubs think they could goad Vieira’s team in the same way?

Once more this seems to be stretching the point, and that really does leave us with just one explanation.  That Palace players are both setting themselves up to be fouled, and simulating the effects of fouls, thus making it look to the referee as if the opposition really is on a mission to cripple Palace players.

Of course you may disagree, but if so, I’d love to know what alternative explanation is more likely than this.  This final explanation has the benefit of being one that is under the control of the Palace players: when tackled, go down, make a fuss.  As simple as that.  No conspiracy – the referee is just acting on what he and the linespeople see.   They get the free kick, the opposition back off and learn not to get near the Palace players.  The Palace players have a greater chance of scoring.

The number of goals scored against Palace dropped by 20 last season.  A drop of 30%.  Something caused that too – and the simplest explanation is that it was the same tactic as caused more opposition players to give away fouls against Palace, than with any other team.  If so it is a very successful tactic, and if PGMO don’t act it is one that will spread exponentially.



3 Replies to “Why do Crystal Palace players get fouled so often?”

  1. Tony, my guess is that Crystal Palace is a team with surprisingly many and good dribbler.
    There is Zaha to begin with. The master of all dribbles. In the past 6 years he was among the 10 most fouled player in the top 5 leagues, only Jack Grealish represented the PL, hence Aston Villa’s high fouled statistics from a season back.
    And there are Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise, Odsonne Édouard and others who all share dribbling as the key strength – at least according to WhoScored’s player profiles. When you look at Malcolm Ebiowei, it’s easy to think that he was signed to stick to the same ‘culture’ and tactics.
    That’s probably what Vieira trying to innovate there. So their preferred style of play involves a lot of dribbling, hence are the frequent fouls.
    What do you think? Can it explain the phenomenon in some extent?

  2. Of course that’s the case.
    Certain players get fouled more often Zaha, Grelish, Olise, Eze etc. It just so happens palace have more of these players. What do they say… oh yes …”he’s just to good for you”

  3. I am not at all convinced that “it just so happens” is ever a particularly helpful or insightful explanation, since it always leaves the question, why does it just so happen?

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