With more and more bettors turning to the bookings markets in order to increase their winnings, we asked our soccer expert, Mark Taylor to looks at the frequency of bookings in the major European Leagues. Who gets more cards? Defenders or attackers? The underdog or the favourite? In which month do we see more bookings? Read on to find out.
Betting on association football matches has greatly evolved since the days when markets were based solely around the match result and one of the more popular derivatives involves the issuing of red and yellow cards.
Law 12, Fouls and Misconduct deal with the sanctions available to a referee to use against a transgressing player.
While cautionable offences range from delaying the restart of play to re-entering the field of play without permission, it is fouls through persistent infringing of the Laws of the Game that generate the vast majority of cautions.
Although not specifically referred to in the Laws, defenders, who make the majority of their challenges in their own half and therefore commit the majority of their fouls in the same area, tend to be most a risk of collecting a card through persistent infringement.
Defender are more often penalised
Using data from a recent Premier League season, defenders were twice as likely to receive a card compared to attackers who committed the same number of fouls.
In the Premier League season 2015/16, defenders were twice as likely to receive a card compared to attackers who committed the same number of fouls.
In this dataset, a defender who committed four fouls in the game had a nearly 60% likelihood of finishing his match with at least a yellow card. Whereas a similarly reckless attacker ended the game with just a 30% chance of having received a card.
A defender who was penalised seven or more times was virtually certain to be carded, compared to the misbehaving attacking player who merely becomes slightly more likely than not to go into the referee’s notebook when infringing this often.
Therefore, a good starting point when attempting to form an opinion on cards is how much defending each team will be required to do in the game.
Although, as Leicester proved last season with their low possession, counter attacking style, a superior team does not need to dominate possession in the attacking half of the field, there is a general trend towards the favoured side to have the ball more often, both overall and in the attacking half.
Underdogs get more cards
The tendency for weaker teams in a game to be legitimately punished more by the referee, not through bias, but because they are required to make more challenges and potentially commit more fouls in areas where cards tend to be issued, can be illustrated in the data.
Over the previous three Premier League seasons, teams that were odds on to win the game received, on average only 40% of the cards shown in the game.
Their opponents were shown more cards in 51% of the games, both teams were shown the same number in 26% of games and the strong, pre-game favourites were carded most in just 23% of the matches.
However, there were other in game dynamics also at play.
For example, strongly fancied pre game favourites who failed to win as expected also tended to be more badly behaved compared to those fancied sides who did win as the odds suggested they would.
This may be because fancied teams become frustrated when their on-field performance falls below their expected levels.
Therefore, there does appear to be a correlation between the pre-game match odds and the likelihood of one side receiving more bookings than their opponent, although these expectations can also be swayed by events once the match has begun.
La Liga - The European league with the highest number of bookings
Bookings markets also vary between the major European leagues.
Over the previous three completed seasons, an average La Liga match has nearly 5.5 total cards compared to just 3.5 in England.
The English Premier League, despite its reputation as an overly physical league has nearly 6.5 fouls per card, although as noted, players can be booked for reasons other than committing foul play.
In Spain over the previous three completed seasons, only 5 fouls are committed per card and an average La Liga match has nearly 5.5 total cards compared to just 3.5 in England.
The Bundesliga has booking totals per game that are more in line with the top flight in England, coming in at a couple of tenths higher, while Italian football is higher still averaging 5 cards per match.
August – The month with the most bookings
Seasonal variations also tend to persist at different times of a league campaign.
Over the previous three Premier League seasons, August has averaged over 26 fouls per game and 3.8 cards per match. Whereas May, the final month of the season when many sides are involved in neither relegation battles nor title contention, the respective figures fell to 24.5 and 3.2.
Often, particularly in tournaments, referees will be issued with instructions designed to modify player behaviour and the issuing of cards and free kicks is often the method used to ensure the players comply.
The tackle from behind was all but eradicated from the game by swift punitive measures that were introduced in the 1998 World Cup and subsequently worldwide.
This season, player dissent and shirt pulling by defenders, often at corner kicks appear to be on the current disciplinary agenda. This may temporarily skew the booking figures until players step into line or the initiative is relaxed.
The role of the referee
Stoke City’s recent home match with Manchester City contained two penalty kicks awarded by Mike Dean for shirt pulling, along with a yellow card for the two offenders. Both were incidents that would almost certainly have been disregarded in the recent past. This brings us to another important ingredient in determining match bookings, namely the referee.
Often the officials gain a reputation for being either harsh or lenient, but as figures from international tournaments show, where the referees from different countries fall into line with the wishes of the tournament organisers, they are adaptable and their core statistics may change.
Of the current regular Premier League officials, Robert Madley and Lee Mason appear to be more lenient towards transgressions by the players, as each has averaged just 2.9 cards per game against a league average of 3.5, each tolerating over eight fouls per issue.
Whereas Mike Dean’s patience wears thin after just 6.5 fouls and his average card count is nearly 4 per game, a figure only eclipsed in recent time by the now retired Phil Dowd who had shown 4.5 cards per match from 2013 to 2015.
Higher number of bookings at derbies
One final factor to consider when framing bookings is the nature of the game. Local derbies are often fiercely competitive affairs, regardless of the antecedents of the players involved.
The most notable derby games played in the Premier League are the Merseyside, North London, Manchester and Tyne and Wear derby games and over the last three seasons these 24 games have produced an average of 4.7 cards per match, compared to the league average 3.5.
El Clasico, whilst not a local derby, is another traditionally volatile match and the last six league meetings live up to this reputation and have averaged a combined over 7 cards per game, high even by Spanish standards.
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