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April 24, 2012

Do PK decisions in the EPL even out? Fergie thinks so, but the data disagrees.

Are Premier League referees getting worse? It sure seems that way when I watch games.  And despite the opinion of Sir Alex Ferguson, the decisions do not even out.

What makes it even tougher is when the players dive all over the place with no intent other than to con the referee.  Is anyone with me on starting a campaign for retroactive suspensions for diving?  That would stop all of the diving immediately!  Guaranteed!

Ashley Young has been near criminal in two recent matches.  He’s even been mentioned for a position on Great Britain's Olympic diving team.  Refer to the video of Man U vs. Villa and Man U vs. QPR for some of the finest acting in years.  He really ought to be ashamed of himself.

But it’s not only the PKs that are called; it’s those that are not called as well.  Refer to the highlights, if you can find them, of the Man U vs. Fulham game on 26 March 2012.  The game was at Old Trafford, it was late in the game, there was a CLEAR penalty against Man U and, of course, it wasn’t called.

I’m not saying there’s a bias towards the “bigger clubs”, but looking at penalty kick data sure leans me in that direction.  All you need to do is filter the viz below to only include teams that finished 1-4 and you’ll see what I mean.

The top four teams get way more PKs called in their favor than the rest of the clubs AND they significantly more PKs called at home.  I simply can’t believe that referees are NOT intimidated by Fergie and Old Trafford?

Click on the Manchester United logo to focus on them.  Look at those startling trends that appear at the bottom.  Intimidation at its finest!

If you want to see the details behind the charts, go to the Team PK Stats tab. 
  • Look at how many PKs the top four teams have gotten over the year, both overall and at home
  • Now compare that to the relegated teams (18-20)
Maybe it’s because the top teams have the ball more and create more situations where a PK could be called. But still, should the numbers be so overwhelming?


  1. Of course the top clubs get more penalties. They spend more time in their opponents' penalty area so it is bound to happen.

  2. Simon, that's my thinking too. It would be interesting to compare this to possession percentage to see if there's a correlation.

    However, I would suspect that theory breaks down with Arsenal as they typically dominate possession, but they don't get the same penalties as Man U.

    My point, though, was that these things don't even out.

  3. Andy, I don't know about possession but there was a study recently measuring penalties against goals. Over six years of Premier League matches that showed that the percentage of goals scored by the home team was very close to the percentage of penalties awarded to the home team for each club.

    In other words, as na example, if Man U scored 70% of goals scored at Old Trafford, they were also rewarded approx 70% of penalties awarded at Old Trafford.

  4. Simon, that makes perfect sense. Thanks for informing me.

    It's interesting how PKs always spark debate. :-)

  5. The article that you mentioned was written by Mark Taylor, from the excellent 'The Power of Goals' blog.
    Here's a link:

    As pointed out above, simply plotting penalties awarded and conceded contains significant bias as team quality determines where on the pitch the majority of match events take place, hence how much exposure teams have to winning or conceding penalties.

  6. Thanks for the link 11tegen11.

    Mark was the person that led me to the data in the first place. I love his blog.

    Wouldn't it be great if there were data about controversial calls and no-calls? Then we'd really be able to see if "these things even out".

    I again think that would be heavily linked towards possession and goal %. But then again, if the smaller clubs got all of the close calls that the bigger clubs do, the penalty stats may very well look quite a bit different too.

    In the end, it all comes down to the referee's performance.

  7. Sorry, but your stats does not add to the evens out debate. The only reason why you would expect everyone to get the same number of penalties if every team is equally good/likely of creating clear-cut chances in the penalty area. This assumption is of course absurd, and top four teams really do create more chances and spend more time in the penalty area and so it's expected that they would get a lot of penalties. The exception of course is Arsenal, who have not won a lot of penalties despite this.