Football Features

Every Premier League club ranked from saints to foul merchants

By Steve Jennings

Published: 13:18, 24 April 2019

There are many approaches to football, some better received than others.

Ahead of Wednesday’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford, United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warned his players of Pep Guardiola’s City and their propensity to get away with committing fouls when pressing high up the pitch.

Guardiola’s response was blunt. “I don’t like it,” he said. “No. My team is not built to think and create for that, not at all.”

While Guardiola denies the use of those tactics, some managers willingly adopt a rough-and-ready strategy as opposed to embracing the ‘beautiful game’ moniker often used to describe the sport.

The Premier League is a prime example of a division consisting of varied approaches. Indeed, several managers understand the benefits of breaking up the opposition’s rhythm with fouls and other hijinks.

But what happens when those tactics go too far? Too many yellow and red cards can have a detrimental effect on a team’s results, as is somewhat proven by the Premier League’s disciplinary table.

In order to rank all 20 clubs based on discipline, we’re using Opta’s system of one point per foul conceded, three points per yellow card and six per red card. (The FA gives four points for a yellow card and either 10 or 12 points depending on the nature of a red card.)

So below is every Premier League team ranked from the least to the most disciplinary points accrued this season, i.e. from the fairest to the foulest.

1. Manchester City (Disciplinary points: 411)

Possession: 68.21%
Fouls conceded: 291
Yellow cards: 38
Red cards: 1
Worst offender: Fernandinho (55)

Not only have Man City recorded the fewest disciplinary points; they’ve also conceded the fewest fouls, which their average possession of 68% goes some way to explaining.

However, the fact only four Premier League midfielders playing for teams with an average possession of over 50% have conceded more fouls than Fernandinho (40) this season supports the view of former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg, who recently told the Mail: “I have seen Solskjaer’s comments about City using tactical fouls to disrupt play when they lose possession, and he has a point.

“They break at such speed and are so expansive that they are left exposed when they lose the ball.

“City midfielder Fernandinho, in particular, is guilty of these cynical fouls. But then so are all teams in certain situations.”

2. Liverpool (423)

Possession: 61.83%
Fouls conceded: 303
Yellow cards: 36
Red cards: 2
Worst offender: James Milner (45)

It is perhaps no surprise that the top two sides in the Premier League have the best disciplinary records. They tend to have a lot of the ball and so aren’t constantly attempting the steal possession from the opposition, which can lead to fouls.

3. Chelsea (449)

Possession: 64.17%
Fouls conceded: 311
Yellow cards: 46
Red cards: 0
Worst offender: Antonio Rudiger (49)

Again, possession is the justification here. Manchester City are the only club with a higher possession percentage than Chelsea this season; Sarri-ball is based on retaining the ball. Admirably, Chelsea are the only top-flight team yet to receive a red card this season.

4. West Ham United (485)

Possession: 47.92%
Fouls conceded: 311
Yellow cards: 56
Red cards: 1
Worst offender: Robert Snodgrass (62)

West Ham are the highest side on the list with a possession average below 50%. Receiving just one red card has aided their disciplinary record, while only Liverpool and Manchester City have conceded fewer fouls.

5. Bournemouth (492)

Possession: 45.47%
Fouls conceded: 312
Yellow cards: 58
Red cards: 1
Worst offender: Jefferson Lerma (72)

Only one player – who we’ll get to – has received more yellow cards than Bournemouth midfield Jefferson Lerma this season (11).

6. Leicester City (510)

Possession: 50.77%
Fouls conceded: 324
Yellow cards: 52
Red cards: 5
Worst offender: Wilfred Ndidi (64)

No Premier League side has received more red cards than Leicester this season, which makes their position in this list a bit surprising, as is the fact they committed fewer fouls than a number of teams but still had five dismissals.

7. Tottenham Hotspur (510)

Possession: 59.8%
Fouls conceded: 351
Yellow cards: 51
Red cards: 1
Worst offender: Harry Kane (46)

Tottenham recently enjoyed 78.1% of the ball against Brighton at home, but their overall average is some way off that. For a team who likes to build from the back, Spurs give the ball away a little too often and commit more fouls than the teams above them when trying to reclaim possession.

8. Crystal Palace (526)

Possession: 44.09%
Fouls conceded: 355
Yellow cards: 53
Red cards: 2
Worst offender: Luka Milivojevic (80)

Palace are known for their defensive organisation and ability to hit teams on the break. That approach relies on Luka Milivojevic breaking up opposition play in midfield. Only two players have more disciplinary points than the Serbian this term.

9. Cardiff City (541)

Possession: 34.2%
Fouls conceded: 346
Yellow cards: 63
Red cards: 1
Worst offender: Sol Bamba (56)

No side has a lower possession percentage than Cardiff this season. Neil Warnock’s men often find themselves under pressure, at which time fouls become inevitable. With that in mind, they have done well to receive just one red card.

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10. Burnley (542)

Possession: 40.73%
Fouls conceded: 335
Yellow cards: 67
Red cards: 1
Worst offender: Ashley Barnes (70)

Burnley striker Ashley Barnes loves to wind up the opposition, so it’s no surprise to discover he is his side’s worst offender. Like many others, Burnley are happy not to have possession, especially on the road; their 67 yellow cards is the third-most in the division.

11. Wolverhampton Wanderers (566)

Possession: 47.21%
Fouls conceded: 365
Yellow cards: 65
Red cards: 1
Worst offender: Ryan Bennett (65)

Wolves’ back three is put in place so they can keep the ball for the most part, particularly in home games. But of the three centre-backs, Ryan Bennett has been the most guilty in terms of committing fouls – he has received 10 yellow cards, too.

12. Newcastle United (566)

Possession: 39.57%
Fouls conceded: 395
Yellow cards: 53
Red cards: 2
Worst offender: Matt Ritchie (74)

Only Cardiff have a lower possession percentage than Newcastle this season. Matt Ritchie’s relatively recent switch to left wing-back has given him more licence to put tackles in, although he is still guilty of timing them like an attacker every now and then.

13. Arsenal (570)

Possession: 58.26%
Fouls conceded: 378
Yellow cards: 62
Red cards: 1
Worst offender: Granit Xhaka (64)

Granit Xhaka is yet to receive a red card yet this season, a welcome change to the Arsenal fans for a player who has been dismissed plenty of times in the past. Arsenal’s only red card of the campaign was shown to Lucas Torreira in the north London derby against Tottenham at Wembley.

14. Huddersfield Town (573)

Possession: 47.47%
Fouls conceded: 390
Yellow cards: 53
Red cards: 4
Worst offender: Jonathan Hogg (73)

Huddersfield have a surprisingly high possession percentage rate for a club rooted to the foot of the table. Their four red cards, however, have contributed to them dropping points in must-win home games, ultimately resulting in their demise.

15. Everton (579)

Possession: 50.71%
Fouls conceded: 396
Yellow cards: 53
Red cards: 4
Worst offender: Idrissa Gueye (68)

Marco Silva has seen plenty from his side in recent weeks that will give him confidence for next season. One thing he must work on next term, however, is Everton’s disciplinary record. Four red cards is too many for a side hoping to defy expectations and claim a top-six finish.

16. Fulham (596)

Possession: 46.91%
Fouls conceded: 392
Yellow cards: 64
Red cards: 2
Worst offender: Aleksandar Mitrovic (79)

Three different managers have struggled to turn Fulham’s fortunes around and the Cottagers will be playing in the Championship again next term. At least they will be able to focus on dominating possession and consequently committing fewer fouls.

17. Manchester United (611)

Possession: 54.39%
Fouls conceded: 395
Yellow cards: 64
Red cards: 4
Worst offender: Luke Shaw (67)

United’s disciplinary record is astonishingly poor for a top-six side. Their inability to keep the ball as well as their high-quality rivals is somewhat responsible, but Solskjaer’s aforementioned words about Manchester City take on a sense of irony when the numbers above are taken into account.

18. Southampton (615)

Possession: 42.68
Fouls conceded: 393
Yellow cards: 68
Red cards: 3
Worst offender: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (74)

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is yet another example of a central midfielder who can overstep the line in his determination to win the ball back for his side. Southampton’s struggle to stay in the division can in some ways be put down to the numbers above.

19. Brighton and Hove Albion (622)

Possession: 42.03%
Fouls conceded: 430
Yellow cards: 56
Red cards: 4
Worst offender: Glenn Murray (90)

Glenn Murray being Brighton’s worst offender is indicative of the job he does up front, attempting to dominate the opposition centre-backs in the air and often falling foul of the law. Murray has the most disciplinary points and Brighton have committed the most fouls in the entire Premier League this season.

20. Watford (635)

Possession: 46.09%
Fouls conceded: 401
Yellow cards: 72
Red cards: 3
Worst offender: Etienne Capoue (86)

Watford are doing remarkably well for a team with the worst disciplinary record in the division. Brighton are the only other side to have committed over 400 fouls this term, while Watford have picked up at least four more yellow cards than any other team.