Last week I noticed there had been a lot of players sent off during matches and decided to take a look at whether this was a trend or just a misperception on my part.
What I found confirmed my suspicions. In the first six weeks of the 2015-16 Fantasy Premier League season 15 red cards were dished out – a 66.66 per cent increase on the first six weeks of last season. As the first chart shows, two bad gameweeks accounted for a good chuck of those dismissals.
Were referees being more disciplinarian or was this just coincidence? I looked at the number of yellow cards doled out and discovered 20 more yellow cards were brandished in the first six gameweeks this season than last season – an increase of 9.35 per cent.
Of the players who were sent off, it appears five were dismissed for fighting (which includes stamping), four for receiving a second yellow card and three each for professional fouls and bad fouls. The sample size, as with all this data, is small so it is hard to draw conclusions, but it looks like referees are being a bit stricter and the players haven’t helped themselves either.
Does the man in the middle, the referee, affect how often players are being sent off? The sample size was such that I only thought it fair to look at the referees who have taken charge of at least three games.
Martin Atkinson dished out nearly five yellow cards per game match on average during the first six weeks, but hadn’t sent anyone off. Neither had Craig Parsons, who averaged four yellow cards per match. At the other end of the scale, Michael Oliver had shown players a red card three times, for an average of one red every other game. Kevin Friend also waved red three times, or once per game officiated on average, and he averaged more yellow cards per match than any of the other referees. We can’t read much into the data at this stage, but if I have a card magnet in my team this might make me a little more cautious about playing him if Friend is taking charge of his next match.
I also looked at which teams had been affected by red cards being waved. Four teams had experienced red card situations in matches at least three times this season: Arsenal (3), Chelsea (4), Swansea City (4) and West Ham United (4). Arsenal had received two reds and seen their opponents receive one. Chelsea benefited twice and were punished twice. West Ham had suffered three reds and seen their opponents suffer one, while Swansea saw an opposition player head for an early shower on all four occasions.
How much does a red card affect a game? In 60 per cent of the matches this season where one team played a man down for at least 10 minutes, the team with fewer players conceded one goal. The aggregate score in such situations was 6-1 in favour of the team with an extra man. On both occasions where a team was reduced to nine men (Stoke City v West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea v Arsenal), the team with fewer players conceded a goal and lost the match.
With one match left of Gameweek 7 we have yet to see a red card brandished. Have the players been better behaved, or the referees calmed down, or are we just witnessing a statistical data point on the other side of the trend line? It’s too early to tell. But if the officials do keep dismissing players at the rate they did over the first six weeks it is going to affect results on frequent basis and, potentially, our perception of how good teams are when facing full strength opposition. How often does an FPL manager looking to bring a player in cross-reference the player’s team performance with the number of red cards shown in their matches?
Could it be that Swansea City were not as good as their four points from their opening two games against Chelsea and Newcastle suggested because both opponents played a man down for a large portion of those games? I think that would be a harsh call. In both situations it was the Swans’ attacking play that drew the fouls that led to players being sent off.
Of those players who are card magnets in the Premier League, few are likely feature in our Fantasy Premier League teams. Furthermore, the list of players sent off this season is not limited to the usual suspects. Therefore, I’m not sure this data gives us any major insight into the future. But it does give us something else to think about when assessing the performance of some teams this season.