Revealed: Which Top 4 Premier League Club Is In The Pocket Of Referees

Every season you hear the same statements being thrown about: “Manchester United get all the cards,” “The referees are in Sir Alex’s pocket” and so on. So I’ve taken a look at a breakdown of how cards were given and received by Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion.

I chose these teams as they’re the last three champions of the league, because Arsenal fans would probably kill me for not including them in this breakdown and West Brom being the team that finished 10th last season and representing the mid-table sides. I’ve gone through the last 48 games, one by one, to deliver this breakdown and make it as accurate as possible.

So let’s start with the breakdown of cards that have been given to opponents of the teams that I’ve previously mentioned.

Arsenal 104 8 5 112 41 38 2.3
Chelsea 82 3 2 85 41 28 1.77
Manchester United 72 10 4 82 41 25 1.7
Manchester City 74 2 2 76 37 21 1.58
West Brom 60 4 4 64 36 16 1.33

SRC: Straight Red Card TC: Total Cards G1C: Games with at least one card MCG: Multiple Card Games CPG: Cards per Game

As you can see just by the total number of cards given, Arsenal have by far and away the most cards given to opponents, while Chelsea and United are in a close battle for second followed by City in fourth and West Brom a very distant fifth.

But why does Arsenal get so many cards, particularly yellow cards, given to their opponents? For the amount of time that Arsene Wenger spends talking ill of the referees, it can’t be that he has any sort of influence over the officials. As you may have heard on the EPL Talk Podcast, Kris Heneage made a very good point in stating that Arsenal are a side with many technical players. In a league where strength and speed are at the forefront, technical players tend to be on the receiving end of their fair share of fouls.

Just looking at a team like West Brom, who don’t necessarily have the same amount of purely technical players in the team, you can see the drop off in total cards. The other thing one might notice when looking at this table is that Manchester United’s opponents have received 10 red cards. Even though it isn’t very far from Arsenal’s total red card tally, it’s miles ahead of the other three teams in the table. To average it out, Manchester United have played nearly 1/5 of their games against 10 men or less. That is a HUGE advantage when you take into account a team of United’s quality and perceived advantage going into a game against any full squad. Then to look at a team like Manchester City, who themselves have a fair number of technical players, to be as far away as they are from the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and United, is almost mind boggling.

Now let’s take a look at the amount of cards these teams have accumulated themselves over the last season and a quarter.

West Brom 63 2 1 65 31 18 1.35
Manchester City 61 6 2 67 36 18 1.4
Manchester United 69 1 1 70 37 22 1.46
Arsenal 73 5 1 78 36 26 1.63
Chelsea 88 6 4 94 40 30 1.96

SRC: Straight Red Card TC: Total Cards G1C: Games with at least one card MCG: Multiple Card Games CPG: Cards per Game

Again, we see a team that is given considerably more cards than their rivals, a slight battle for second and then a bit of a drop off towards bottom. Chelsea leading the pack can be attributed to a few things. Style of play comes into question and discipline is also a major question when a team isn’t far from getting 100 cards in just over a season. It should be noted though that of Chelsea’s six red cards, four of them have come in two games (United this season, QPR last season).

Manchester City also has a staggering amount of red cards. While many people will point to them having players like noted hothead Mario Balotelli and Kung Fu Nigel De Jong in the squad, that’s still a very high percentage of red cards that are given to City given their total number of cards overall. One also has to ask the question of how Manchester United have only received one red card in the last 48 games (the one red going to “No Foul” Johnny Evans vs. City last season). But when it comes to disparities, Arsenal’s 34 card drop off from fouls given to their opponents to fouls they commit is quite tremendous. Especially when you figure Chelsea have received nine more cards than their opponents have been given, United have a 12 card drop off, City have a 9 card drop off and West Brom have been given one more card than their opponents have gotten against them.

So what can we learn from these numbers? Is there really a fix in for United given the staggering amount of red cards their opponents have been given and the paltry amount they’ve received? Or are United just a well disciplined side that just so happens to be on the receiving end of brute force tactics? How is it that Arsenal’s opponents have received so many cards (an average of just over 2 per game) yet they still struggle to get results in the league? Why are officials so trigger happy with the red cards when it comes to City and Chelsea?

There are any number of narratives that can be taken when you actually see the breakdown of how cards are given and received. Ultimately each card that is given is subjective to the official who has given it. Style of play, certain players, a manager’s relationship with officials, all of that is taken into account on top of the actual foul itself. These are all things that can be factored into an official’s thinking when it comes to giving cards, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not. So take from this what you will. As a Blues fan, I obviously feel hard done by the refs (four reds in two games will do that to a man) but as it is with statistics, everyone has their own views and takes when the numbers are presented to them.


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