As the Premier League season passes the halfway point, match officials are once again the centre of attention, with fans often feeling frustrated and wronged due to inconsistent decisions.

In theory, an even distribution of cards in proportion to fouls will keep games flowing and discourage tactical disruptions from occurring. However, this has not always been the case, with referees often awarding cards unfairly and unevenly.

BetVictor has delved into Premier League booking stats and fouls data from the 2022-23 season to uncover which teams, if any, are being the most harshly or laxly carded relative to their offences.

The findings have been combined into a ‘Booking Favourability Score’ to rank teams by how well cards and officials are deemed to be working in their favour.

How evenly are teams being punished for their fouls during a game?

The above graph shows the fouls and cards given against each team.

Leeds are the team making the most fouls per game, averaging 12.60, reflecting their aggressive approach in forcing transitions from which they can attack.

However, this is not reflected by their bookings as they rank third in the league for cards per game (2.44), and eighth for percentage of fouls booked (19.37%).

The above illustrates the disproportion that exists. Therefore, to calculate how fairly teams are being punished, we can find the number of fouls they make before being booked, to provide an understanding of how proportionally teams are carded.

Top 3 clubs for fouls permitted before being booked:

  • Liverpool – 8.10 fouls
  • West Ham – 7.90 fouls
  • Man City – 7.73 fouls

Bottom 3 clubs for fouls permitted before being booked:

  • Fulham – 4.16 fouls
  • Everton – 4.37 fouls
  • Crystal Palace – 4.80 fouls

The data shows that officials permit Liverpool to make 63.4% more fouls than Fulham before booking them. Which represents a large discrepancy between what teams are permitted to get away with.

Which Premier League sides are being let off the hook?

Using a linear regression model, it is possible to predict the number of cards a team should accumulate per game in proportion to their fouls.

This is done by measuring the vertical distance (residual error) of teams from the line of best fit shown on the above graph (Bookings Against).

This suggests that Brighton are the most underbooked team, receiving -0.51 cards less per game than our model estimates a team with their number of fouls should have. Meanwhile, Fulham are being overbooked by +0.68 cards.

Which sides are buying the most cards for their opponents?

The above graph displays the fouls and cards being won by each team.

Getting your opposition carded creates tactical advantages in different areas of the pitch, a prime example being a winger getting a full-back on a yellow. Teams will often be seen surrounding referees to pressure them into carding opponents, but who is buying the most cards for their opposition?

Key Findings:

  • Almost one in four fouls committed against Brighton, Man City, and Tottenham are booked
  • Man United win the fewest fouls and cards per game of any team
  • Aston Villa are the second-most fouled team in the league but the worst ranking for fouls per card won

Almost one in four (23.01%) fouls made against Man City are carded, with the Blues seemingly experts at having the referee’s ear. The data shows that they earn a card for every 4.33 fouls made against them.

Tottenham and Brighton are similarly skilled at having officials card their opponent, with 24.04% and 23.04% of fouls made against them booked respectively.

In contrast, Aston Villa and Bournemouth cannot catch a break, with less than 15% of their fouls won being carded. Aston Villa need to be fouled nearly seven times (6.92) before referees show their opposition a card.

Which teams get the most protection from officials?

Once again, by measuring the residual error of teams from the line of best fit, but this time from the second graph (Bookings in Favour of Team), we can estimate how many cards a team’s opponents are being over/underbooked per game based on our proportional booking model.

Top 3 clubs for opposition over/underbooking:

  • Brighton (+0.63 cards)
  • Man City (+0.51 cards)
  • Tottenham (+0.45 cards)

Bottom 3 clubs for opposition over/underbooking:

  • Bournemouth (-0.36 cards)
  • Aston Villa (-0.29 cards)
  • Brentford (-0.27 cards)

The data shows that Brighton’s rate of 2.50 cards won per game is +0.63 more than predicted based on our model, indicating a high level of protection from match officials. To put this into perspective Bournemouth are fouled 0.10 more than Brighton per game but their opposition receives almost a card less per game (0.98 difference for cards won per game).

The Final Ranking

The insights from our analysis have been turned into a score for each team based on how favourably the data suggests they and their opponents are being carded.

To do this, we developed the ‘Booking Favourability Score’, which gives teams a rating between 5-10.  You can see the results below:

The table above looks at how well teams are avoiding bookings for their own players by analysing their fouls per card rate and their cards over/underbooked per game.

It then analyses how effectively teams are at getting their opponent booked by looking at opponent fouls per card won and cards won over/underbooked per game. The data is then combined into a single score.

The ranking table reveals Brighton to be the overall most favourably treated team in the league this season (9.69), followed by Manchester City (9.11). Fulham are the most unfavourably booked (5.15), followed by Aston Villa (5.76). The average score was 6.97.

Do you think these scores reflect what you see on the pitch?

Data Sources:

  • The data used for this study was collected from FBref for the 2022-23 Premier League season


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