Various Premier League teams over the years have often been accused of playing ‘dirty’. The style is seen to break up the rhythm of more talented opponents, and can often work. So who’s the dirtiest of them all? Currently, Stoke are perceived to be the biggest proponents of this method, and only two teams have made more fouls than the Potters so far this season:
But it strikes me that teams who spend more time without the ball – teams like Stoke – will naturally commit more fouls than teams who dominate possession.
So using average possession data from WhoScored.com, I calculated the total minutes teams have spent without the ball this season. Dividing this total by the number of fouls committed, we get an idea of how many minutes it takes, on average, for teams to make a foul. This might give us a better idea of who is the ‘dirtiest’ team in the league.
There isn’t a great deal of variation in the data, but it is perhaps surprising to see that league leaders Manchester City are the most frequent foulers in the division when accounting for time out of possession. Stoke are in the bottom half in this respect.
Indeed a number of good teams ‘top’ this list, teams who generally retain a large proportion of possession. This may be explained by the style of football. Given counter-attacks can be more dangerous than defending in open play, good teams may need to prevent these attacks before they even begin, often through fouling the opposition.
Most people would not consider Man City to be a ‘dirty’ team, but the evidence suggests they foul when they need to; clearly intelligent teams can get away with this without too much trouble.
We can also look at how regularly teams are fouled when in possession:
This supports the idea that counter-attacking teams need to be fouled more regularly when in possession. Fouling Man City at the same rate as fouling Stoke would be problematic for most teams, given the quality City possess.
Needless to say there are problems with this analysis, not least the lack of data on fouls not given, or further considerations such as cards given and when fouls are made. Nevertheless, there’s an argument to suggest even the best teams can be ‘dirty’ when they need to.
Note: Fouls committed and fouls won were unequal in the data. I’m not sure why this is, but it shouldn’t affect the results too much. Similar analysis with possession and goals can be found on my personal blog 5 Added Minutes