Why do some clubs have their players fouled so much more than others?

by Tony Attwood

Tottenham get more yellow cards at their home ground than anyone else other than Nottingham Forest.   They have got almost four times as many yellow cards at home as Liverpool have in their home matches and just on twice as many as Arsenal.

Two points arise from that.  One is why this happens and the other is why the media don’t mention it.  And they ought to because there is quite a story here as when it comes to away games Manchester United have received three times as many yellow cards as Manchester City!

If you are a regular reader you will know we take a lot of interest in the issue of tackles, fouls and yellow cards because yellow cards and their effect on a team was at the heart of the Arteta revolution when he came to Arsenal.  In 2019/20 Arsenal were the most carded club in the league, with 86 cards, more than twice as many as Liverpool.

Indeed our first analysis of the subject in that season showed that while Leicester were committing 9.48 fouls before getting a yellow card, Arsenal were only committing 4.32 fouls before they got a yellow.

Arteta worked hard to get this number right down, and although Arsenal are no longer the most mistreated club in terms of the number of fouls that lead to a yellow card, the numbers are still crazy.   While it takes 8.82 fouls for Manchester City to get a yellow, and an amazing 9.10 for Liverpool to get a yellow, for Arsenal it is just 5.87 fouls.

In 2020 it took Arsenal 4.32 fouls to get a yellow, Manchester City 5.21 and Liverpool 8.33.  Arsenal have improved their position a bit, Manchester City enormously, and Liverpool have declined a little, but the trend is still the same.

So how is this done?  The most obvious explanation is that because the variation in the way referees treat different clubs is not discussed at all (apart from here) managers come to England completely unware of the approach of PGMO, in which the treatment of different clubs varies enormously.  So it takes them a while to realise that one major factor in the success of the club is how referee performances are managed.

Looking at the fouls per yellow card tables over time and noting when a new manager came in reveals this…


Club 2019/20 Fouls/yellow 2022/23 Fouls/Yellow Manager since…
Manchester City 5.21 8.82 2016
Liverpool 8.33 9.10 2015
Manchester United 5.68 4.61 2022
Chelsea 5.31 5.17 2022
Arsenal 4.32 5.87 2019
Tottenham 4.46 5.52 2021


Manchester City and Liverpool are both able to commit many more fouls before getting a yellow card than Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea, but they also have had a manager in place for a shorter amount of time.

What I think happens here is that over time the managers realise what PGMO is up to and so bring in players who can defend without tackling.   Referees meanwhile don’t give out yellow cards only for the severity of a tackle but also for repeated tackling by the team as a whole – which is of course not in the rule book.   Thus the yellow card is used to attempt to manage the team – something that I don’t think happens in other leagues.   So the manager has to get used to this and buy in defenders who can play the game without tackling so much.

Obviously having fouls called against the team for tackling, gives the advantage to the opposition, so there is a drive among the clubs with better defenders to rely less and less on tackles as a means of defending.

Certainly, Liverpool and Manchester City get a huge benefit out of having defenders who can commit around twice as many fouls as Arsenal players before they get a card.

But this is not the only oddity.   Chelsea and Arsenal players are fouled much more than Liverpool and Manchester City players.  For Chelsea, it is 11.8 fouls per game, for Arsenal 11.7.   But Manchester United only have their players fouled 7.1 times a game. For Liverpool, it is 8.3 and for Manchester City, it is 9.2.

In fact at 13.2 fouls per game against them, Crystal Palace players are fouled almost twice as much, game after game, as Manchester United players.

How can that be?

As we have repeatedly seen in other analyses on this site, clubs that commit a much higher number of fouls get away with more fouls before the yellow cards are waved.  Clubs not known for putting in a lot of tackles get more yellow cards when they do commit fouls.

This of course is not at all right – every tackle and every foul should be judged on its merit not on the trends of the game or the reputation of the club – but that is what is happening.

The difference between clubs in terms of the number of times their players are fouled in a game is huge.  Why are Crystal Palace players fouled nearly twice as much as Manchester United players?  Surely it is not because Palace players are more skilful.


Team Fouled / game Fouls Committed / game Difference
1. Crystal Palace 13.2 12.2 1.0
2. Aston Villa 12.4 11.3 1.1
3. Chelsea 11.8 10.6 1.2
4. Arsenal 11.7 10.4 1.3
16. Manchester City 9.2 8.3 0.9
17. Tottenham 8.5 10.4 -1.9
18. Liverpool 8.3 9.1 -0.8
19. West Ham 8.2 9.9 -1.7
20. Manchester United 7.1 11.8 -4.7


These figures showing the variation in the level of fouling against different clubs are really weird.  They don’t relate to recognised skill levels, or style of play or anything.  What is going on?

6 Replies to “Why do some clubs have their players fouled so much more than others?”

  1. Has anyone found a stat about the number of tackles Arsenal did in their own 16m box in the games of this season. I’ve got the feeling there was not even one in the NLD.
    Which translates into far less penalty risk

  2. Years ago when I was playing we were taught what was known as retreating defence , in effect it was to funnel players to go where we wanted them and to be able to cut out passes. However we noticed that when we did tackle the Referee came down harder calling fouls and taking names .
    It isn’t new I spoke to a referee from senior amateur as it was then , Isthmian and Athenian league and he said that it was perception and surprise that a tackle had been made that made them more likely to be penalised.

    Make of that what you will.

  3. Love the opening line of this article, the spuds can’t even manage to be first in the stats for home yellow cards. Well played Forest.

  4. Contributory factors to the apparent differences, may include players who are adept at “buying” fouls ( a pundit term of approval), notably Zaha, closely followed by Grealish. (plus the majority of the Tottenham team, able led by the current England captain / greatest striker on earth.

  5. So sick of the referees and PGMOL. The only constant is the inconsistency. Someone commented on a previous thread that he felt the PGMOL would ensure Arsenal wouldn’t win the league through the assignment of referees and VAR officials. Unfortunately, I have to agree. Everything is in place on the club side. Talent, coaching, direction. Also, I think the squad can withstand injuries as well as most. Suspensions from cards could affect the team more. This is of course controlled by our friends the PGMOL. Just an observation but I think as the season progresses, expect more cards and a suspension when a big match looms.

  6. Some comments:

    Does style of attack affect the number of fouls you draw? I’m thinkking of our style of play from 2010-2020 which had a lot of short passes to penetrate the box. Teams wouldn”t hack us to the ground too often but rather tug on our shirts, obstruct our runs and grab our torsos and arms. These fouls were more often than not ignored.

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