Numbers Analysis: Why Elite Football Teams Commit the Most Fouls
When we talk about fouls committed by teams in football (soccer), our minds often gravitate toward lower-ranked teams that rely on defense and have relatively less quality players. Additionally, we often consider fouling an opponent as a dirty play. I’m not saying that hurting someone isn’t dirty, but this notion is generally associated with fouls without much second thought.
Before I present my analysis, illustrating why it’s a fact that the best teams commit the most frequent fouls, let me first show you a graph depicting the total fouls committed by each team in the English Premier League 2022–23 season.
In this graph, you can clearly see that Manchester City and Brentford have committed the fewest fouls in total, while Leeds United and Wolves have committed the most. This aligns with what the average EPL fan generally knows. However, I understand you’re not an average fan, so please keep reading.
First, it’s essential to understand that teams commit fouls when their opponents have possession of the ball. Therefore, we need to consider the relativity of fouls in relation to how much time opponents possess the ball.
As OptaAnalyst mentioned in their article “Matches Are Longer, but How Much More Football Are We Getting?”, that the average ball possession time for the 2022–23 season was 54.52 minutes.
But before you loose in the numbers. Let’s do hands on by calculate Man City. They committed 347 fouls in total (the lowest), but they also had possession for 65% of the time (the highest). In 54 minutes, this is equivalent to 36minutes, meaning their opponents possessed the ball for an average of 18 minutes.
The EPL season consists of 38 matches for each team. To find the average fouls per game, we divide Man City’s total fouls by 38, which gives us approximately 10 fouls per game. In other words, City committed an average of 10 fouls in each 18 minutes.
Now, if we convert minutes into seconds and divide them by the number of fouls, we find that City committed a foul roughly every 108 seconds. This places them as the second-highest team in terms of committing fouls in the league.
On the other hand, a team like Nottingham Forest, which has a high total number of fouls, ranks among the teams that commit fouls less frequently because they possess the ball for as little as 38%.
Teams like Brentford have a different approach because they have one of the least numbers in total fouls and they also commit fouls in less frequent . They remain a case worthy of studying.
Now, reconsider and ask yourself whether fouling the opponent is necessarily a bad thing or if it could be the secret recipe for a dominant team’s defense.
In the future, I might write a piece on how coaches operate their players and systems by using tactical fouls.