Mar 11, 2022
Mar 11, 2022

How to bet on cards: A guide to betting on cards in soccer

Learn how to bet on cards in soccer

Understand the basics of betting on cards

How to use past data to get an edge over the bookmaker

The impact of VAR in the modern game

How to bet on cards: A guide to betting on cards in soccer

There has recently been a shift in soccer betting away from previously popular markets like 1X2, Handicap, and Totals. Betting on cards has emerged as a new focus for serious bettors. Continue reading to learn about cards betting in soccer and what kind of data can inform your betting.

We’ve previously explained how being knowledgeable about a relatively unknown sport or finding a specialist market within more popular sports can benefit bettors - this can be anything from knowing how to bet on golf to becoming an expert in corners betting in soccer.

Successful bettors will often use information others don’t have to take advantage of discrepancies in the odds set by a bookmaker. Even if you don’t have access to such information, you can still find betting value - and cards betting in soccer is just one of many different ways to do that.

Why bet on cards in soccer

It’s naive to think that a bookmaker doesn’t use data and expert knowledge to set their odds in sports betting. However, due to the popularity of the main betting markets (1X2, Handicap, and Totals), a lot of resources and time will be spent on making these odds as sharp as possible.

Bettors can take advantage of the lack of time spent forming the odds for cards betting in soccer and will find it easier to spot discrepancies. Additionally, an analytical approach is more reliable for betting on cards compared to the aforementioned markets due to the low scoring nature of the sport.

How to bet on cards in soccer

Different bookmakers offer different markets for betting on cards in soccer. Pinnacle offers Handicap and Total cards markets for the Champions League, Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, and Serie A - all of these markets use a points system. A booking (yellow card) is worth one point and a red card worth two - because two yellow cards result in a red, this is worth three points (one for the yellow and two for the resulting red if a second yellow is shown).

In Totals cards betting, a figure for the combined cards points is set by the bookmaker - the bettor can choose to bet on the actual figure being over or under the bookmaker’s figure.

Underdogs will most likely have to chase the ball and be forced into more tackles and fouls per game

For example, if Manchester City were playing Crystal Palace, the total might be 4.5. Two bookings for Man City (2 points) and three bookings for Crystal Palace (3 points) would mean an over bet on the Totals would win - anything less and the bet would be a loss.

Handicap cards betting in soccer is the same as any other Handicap market - the bookmaker will offer one side as a + and the other as a - to counter a perceived bias.

An example of a Handicap bet on cards in soccer might be Manchester City -1 and Crystal Palace +1. This means Manchester City would have to accumulate two more cards points than Crystal Palace in order for a Handicap bet on them to win - if Palace accumulated the same or more cards points, a bet on them would win (if Man City scored one more point than Palace, the result would be a push).

Cards betting analysis from the 2013/14 season

Using Premier League data from the 2013/14 season, we can see that there are numerous factors to consider when betting on cards. Tackles per game (TPG), fouls per game (FPG) and the average number of cards per game (CPG) are some of the most useful stats.

The table below shows the average number of TPG, FPG, and CPG for each team currently playing in the Premier League from 2013/14:

Average TPG, FPG and CPG for Premier League teams from 2013/14

TeamsAverage TPGAverage FPGAverage CPG
Arsenal 18.8 9.6 1.5
Bournemouth 16.9 9.8 1.4
Burnley 15.9 10.9 1.8
Chelsea 19.3 10.6 1.8
Crystal Palace 19.7 12.5 1.8
Everton 18.9 10.1 1.6
Hull City 18.7 11.1 1.7
Leicester City 19.9 11.6 1.5
Liverpool 21.4 10.7 1.6
Manchester City 18.8 10.9 1.9
Manchester United 18.9 12.1 1.9
Middlesbrough 20.4 12.2 2.0
Southampton 20.2 11.7 1.6
Stoke City 17.6 11.8 1.9
Sunderland 18.3 11.3 2.0
Swansea City 17.2 10.6 1.5
Tottenham Hotspur 20.1 11.6 2.0
Watford 18.6 13.2 2.2
WBA 17.5 11.1 1.8
West Ham 16.9 10.8 1.8
Average 18.7 11.2 1.8

Somewhat surprisingly, possession-centric teams during the 2013/14 season like Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United make an above-average number of FPG and receive an above-average number of CPG. Conversely, defence-centric teams during that campaign, like WBA and West Ham, make fewer TPG, commit less FPG, and receive less CPG.

Some teams in the Premier League will make their opposition commit more FPG and receive more CPG than others. The table below - using the same sample of data as above - is evidence of this:

Average OFPG and OCPG for Premier League teams from 2013/14

TeamsAverage OFPGAverage OCPG
Arsenal 11.3 2.0
Bournemouth 12.2 1.9
Burnley 11.1 1.8
Chelsea 12.5 2.4
Crystal Palace 11.6 1.7
Everton 11.8 1.7
Hull City 11.1 1.6
Leicester City 9.4 1.6
Liverpool 11.3 1.9
Manchester City 10.1 1.8
Manchester United 11.1 1.8
Middlesbrough 10.8 1.7
Southampton 10.7 1.4
Stoke City 11.4 1.7
Sunderland 11.5 1.7
Swansea City 11.8 1.9
Tottenham Hotspur 11.1 2.0
Watford 11.5 1.5
WBA 10.8 1.4
West Ham 11.6 1.7
Average 11.2 1.8

It is important to note that what these tables don’t show is when these fouls and cards are accumulated (e.g. if a team is an underdog, if they are the favourite, if they are losing or if they are winning). Underdogs will most likely have to chase the ball and will therefore be forced into more TPG and FPG, while a losing side (whether they are the underdog or not) will be forced to do the same the later it gets into a game.

While you may want to consider the impact new rules have on cards betting, the vast majority of cards are given for fouls - within the sample above, less than 1% of cards were shown for simulation, removing the jersey during a celebration, and entering the field of play without permission (a few examples of less well-known bookable offences).

Betting on cards and the referee

Of course, it isn’t just the two sides playing in a match that impact what might happen in terms of cards betting in soccer. The referee is the one who makes the decisions and while all referees follow the same rules, some will give out more cards than others.

The table below shows the average number of CPG that active Premier League referees have shown from the 2013/14 season:

Average referee CPG in the Premier League from 2013/14

Andre Marriner 3.8 4.4 3.7 3.8 3.9
Anthony Taylor 3.6 3.9 3.6 4.2 3.8
Craig Pawson 2.8 3.6 3.2 4.1 3.4
Graham Scott - - 4.3 3.2 3.8
Jonathan Moss 3.2 3.9 3.0 4.5 3.7
Kevin Friend 3.3 4.3 3.1 4.5 3.8
Lee Mason 3.0 3.0 2.6 3.7 3.1
Mark Clattenburg 3.5 3.5 3.4 3.5 3.5
Martin Atkinson 3.3 4.1 3.4 3.7 3.6
Michael Oliver 3.6 3.5 3.6 3.5 3.6
Mike Dean 3.8 4.4 3.5 4.3 4.3
Mike Jones 3.2 3.1 3.0 3.4 3.2
Neil Swarbrick 3.6 4.1 3.2 3.9 3.7
Paul Tierney - - 3.0 2.9 3.0
Robert Madley 3.4 2.55 2.9 4.1 3.2
Roger East 4.2 3.2 2.9 3.8 3.5
Stuart Attwell - - 3.3 3.2 3.3

Betting on cards in soccer during the 2021/22 season

Using widely available data from the 2016/17 season to the end of the 2020/21 campaign, it’s possible to take account of the bookings records of the two teams involved, how their respective tactics can affect the likelihood of bookings, whether the match referee issues many cards (yellow and/or red) and if the VAR official is likely to play a part.

As the average Premier League match contains 3.45 bookings, the line in the total market is often set at around 3.5, a logical position for the bookmaker to hold. Over the previous five full seasons of Premier League soccer, 58 per cent of the matches had either two, three or four yellow cards.


The Handicap market works in the same fashion for cards as it does for anything else, with one side given an advantage (often +0.5 in this case) to account for the increased likelihood that the other team will receive the most bookings.

If the home team is given a handicap of +0.5, it means the away side has to receive a least one more booking than their hosts if a bet on the visitors is to prove successful.

Like goals, both yellow and red cards are relatively rare events, so it certainly pays to conduct some research before placing a bet.

Although there is still much to consider for cards betting in soccer - such as the propensity for more cards in local derbies - the data above will certainly give you an edge over other bettors and most importantly, the bookmaker.

Now that you know how to bet on cards in soccer and how to analyse data that will empower your betting, all that’s left to do is put that knowledge into practice.

Cards Betting - A Premier League case study

By using the Premier League matches from the weekend of February 19, 2022, we can see that five of the 10 games had the Total Bookings line set at 3.5, with four games set at 4 and the remaining fixture at 2.5. While the bookings records of the teams will have been considered when the lines were set, there was also a clear pattern at play.

The one match with a Total Bookings line of 2.5 was Liverpool vs. Norwich, where the home side were the shortest-priced favourite of the weekend. As they were expected to win easily, and the match therefore not too fiercely contested, it makes sense that there was not predicted to be many bookings. And despite it being closer than expected, with Liverpool having to come from behind to win, there was just one yellow card despite the league’s most card-heavy referee overseeing the match.

At the other end of the scale, the four matches with a Total Bookings line of 4 were among the five that had the longest-priced favourites. The closer the game, the more likely there are to be yellow cards.

Tight games are not just expected to have more bookings, they are harder to call in terms of which side will receive the most 

There was a similar logic to the lines in the Handicap Bookings market too. Eight of the 10 matches saw one side have a handicap of +0.5 and the other have -0.5, and in each case, the favourite to win was granted the +0.5 edge. With the underdog expected to have to do more defending, it stands to reason they should be the side that receives the most cards, and that proved to be the case in five of the eight matches.

The other two fixtures had no handicap, as the line was set at 0, and they were the two matches that had the narrowest gap between the home and away prices in the match's Money Line. Tight games are not just expected to have more bookings in total, they are harder to call in terms of which of the sides will receive the most too.

Cards betting analysis

While it would be unwise to dismiss the possibility of a sending off – especially if you’re looking at a heated local derby – in the 1,900 Premier League matches from the start of the 2016/17 season to the conclusion of the 2020/21 campaign there were only 218 red cards, or a shade over one per match week.

In most cases, therefore, any bet you make in the cards markets will be entirely dependent upon the number of yellow cards.

The split on yellow cards is only 52%-48% in favour of the away sides.

Despite there being a sensible application of the cards lines for an individual match, there is no real correlation between how many points a team gets in a season and how many cards either they or their collective opponents receive.

There’s no real home-field advantage in this market either, aside from them receiving slightly fewer cards. But where home sides score 55% of the total goals and have the same proportion of corners, the split on yellow cards is only 52%-48% in favour of the away sides

While the card totals for the ever-present teams from the last five Premier League seasons are vaguely in line with what you might assume, there are certainly some exceptions:


As Manchester City and Liverpool were the most dominant teams in that period, you might expect to see them with the biggest difference between bookings for and against, yet that hasn’t been the case.

There are, therefore, certain tactical aspects for which we need to take account when betting on these markets.

Tactical considerations

When considering a bet on cards, it might be more pertinent to consider the records of the teams involved in terms of the number of fouls per card.

Here are the figures for the Premier League’s 12 ever-present teams from 2016/17 to 2020/21, sorted by the difference between their fouls per card figure and that of their opponents. Bear in mind that the average across the division is 6.6 fouls per card.


Liverpool made more fouls for each card they received than any other team on average, and their defensive style probably played into that, as they focus on pressing ahead of tackling.

In looking to win the ball high up the pitch, Liverpool will occasionally foul opposition defenders through pressuring them, but any such infringements will not be judged as harshly as a full-blooded tackle and so are less likely to result in a booking.

From the 12 clubs studied, Crystal Palace made the most defensive-third tackles in three of the last four season.

Crystal Palace are a good example of the reverse of this. Among the 12 teams in our study, they made the most defensive-third tackles in three of the last four seasons and the second-most in the other campaign. If a side is having to protect their goal with frequent tackling near their penalty box, they undoubtedly run the risk of collecting more cards. 

Other tactical choices also play a part. If asked to name one of the three teams who saw their opponents receive the most yellow cards across a season in the last five years, the Bournemouth side of 2018/19, who finished 14th in the league, would not be an obvious selection.

But they were excellent on the break, scoring a total of nine counter-attack goals, which has only been bettered four times in the last 12 seasons and never by more than one. If a team is good at counter-attacking, the defending team is likely to have to bring one of their players down in order to halt the break, and such behaviour usually results in a yellow card.

Betting on cards and the referee 

For the majority of soccer markets, your main concern is the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams involved but with cards, we also have to factor in the impact which the referee has upon proceedings.

Despite the laws of the game being universal, with so many subjective decisions to be made, different referees will inevitably apply the laws in slightly different ways, leading to some officials showing more cards than others.

The following table contains the 10 most-used referees across the last five Premier League seasons. They are sorted by the number of yellow cards they show per game.


The obvious thing to note is five referees are above the Premier League average and five are below it, and while the figures do not track perfectly, there is also a clear trend when it comes to how many fouls they allow per yellow card they issue.

Although the margins are fairly small in the yellows per game column, the difference of around one between Mike Dean and the bottom trio is huge in the context of the cards markets.

VAR impact in the modern game

The Premier League has employed Video Assistant Reviews (VAR) since the beginning of the 2019/20 season, but it has had very little impact on yellow card totals. The system can only be used for red card decisions, not yellow card bookings.

The only yellow card issue to be resolved by VAR to date involved resolving a case of mistaken identity in September 2020, when Stuart Attwell booked Tomas Soucek when the offender was in fact Andriy Yarmolenko.

There have been many instances of a yellow card being upgraded to a red following a review though. At the time of writing, there have been 40 overturned decisions - 34 players have seen a red card shown with only six seeing their red card retracted and downgraded to a yellow.

Unfortunately for bettors, there is no way to predict when this may occur. However, what we can say is that Paul Tierney has been involved in the most reviews, either as the on-field referee or VAR, which have led to red cards.

His total of seven puts him one ahead of Chris Kavanagh and Graham Scott, so if those men are involved at the stadium or at Stockley Park (the location of the VAR hub) then there may be a slightly greater chance of a player being sent off following a video review.

It’s clear that there are a large number of factors to consider when placing a bet on the cards markets but that doesn’t mean that they cannot prove profitable once you have conducted a little research. Even the data in this article alone can stand you in good stead.

Bookmakers may not pay such close attention to the relevant factors involved when pricing up the bookings markets, when it comes to using data in their process. Their focus will be more closely applied to the more heavily bet upon markets.

Bookings are often the last markets to become available ahead of kick-off, along with corners, and this gives bettors an opportunity to use the advantage of their research and knowledge.

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