How many blue cards would your Premier League team have received this season?
The margin for error is getting ever smaller at the top of the Premier League table.
There is still more than one-third of the campaign to play, but only two points separate the top three. Saturday saw City return to the summit for a few hours after their 2-0 victory over Everton, before Liverpool responded with a 3-1 victory against struggling Burnley to go two points clear with one more game played. On Sunday, Arsenal’s 6-0 demolition of West Ham made it four wins on the spin and showed they are still firmly in the conversation for the title.
As ever, The Athletic want to look beyond the headline narratives, and delve into some quick data-driven hits that you might have missed this weekend…
It is getting more difficult to make a case as to why Manchester City will not win the league.
Against Everton, City’s back line of John Stones, Manuel Akanji, Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake started together for the first time since the Champions League final last June, while Pep Guardiola now has a returning Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne is back to full fitness.
It does sound rather ominous, doesn’t it?
Everton provided a stubborn defence for long periods, but were undone shortly after De Bruyne’s arrival from the bench after 71 minutes. De Bruyne’s assist for Haaland’s second goal made it 12 assists to the Norwegian in all competitions since the start of last season — the most of any Premier League player for a specific team-mate.
That’s 36 chances created by De Bruyne for Haaland in that period, which — unsurprisingly — is more than double what he has laid on for any other City team-mate. Julian Alvarez is the next most frequent beneficiary on 14 chances.
Despite playing just 238 minutes of Premier League football in 2023-24, De Bruyne has already notched four assists — the same tally as Trent Alexander-Arnold, Cole Palmer and Bernardo Silva, and one more than the likes of Raheem Sterling, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Jesus.
City now have a full-strength squad with the title in their own hands. We’ve seen it enough times before to know what is likely to happen next.
Who would have picked up the most ‘blue cards’ this season?
The build-up to the weekend fixtures was dominated by the news that a new ‘blue card’ will be introduced as part of the 10-minute sin bin trials in football.
In an attempt to clamp down on abuse towards match officials and cynical fouls, the trial of blue cards will be distributed for dissent and tactical fouls — i.e. fouls that prevent a promising attack.
While they will not be brought in for next season’s Premier League, it’s still worth having some fun with this. If we were to trace back to the start of the season, which teams would have received the most blue cards for their behaviour?
You have to feel for Sheffield United, who prop up the Premier League table with the lowest average share of possession. Therefore, it is unsurprising that Chris Wilder’s men have the unwanted title of the most yellow cards received from tactical fouls as they are often chasing shadows and looking to prevent further damage to the scoreline by bringing an opponent down before they can build a threatening attack.
Collectively, Chelsea have the biggest issue with controlling the temperament of their players, with 15 yellow cards received for dissent this season — more than any other side.
Interestingly, no player has received more yellow cards for dissent than forward Nicolas Jackson, who has been unable to hide his frustration during a difficult maiden campaign under Mauricio Pochettino.
A weekend dominated by set pieces
Set pieces have always been a huge part of the game, but there were plenty on show last weekend with Manchester City, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Burnley, Liverpool, Brentford and Newcastle all scoring from dead-ball situations — not to mention Luton and Sheffield United, who were both awarded a penalty following a corner.
Arsenal’s 6-0 thrashing of West Ham United included two goals from corners, with their 16 goals from set pieces more than any other side.
Newcastle were also on the scoresheet twice from set pieces, with their second goal particularly noteworthy after a well-worked deep free kick that was akin to the favoured “Dyche Zone” on show at Everton this season.
Interestingly, it is Dyche’s Everton who still lead the Premier League when it comes to successful conversion rate when accounting for opportunity, with 8.4 goals scored per 100 set pieces. Behind them are the weekend’s most prolific set-piece goalscorers — with Newcastle and Arsenal scoring 6.5 and 6.4 goals per 100 set pieces, respectively.
At the other end of the field, it was Newcastle’s opponents on Saturday who are struggling to defend dead-ball situations the most in the Premier League. Nottingham Forest have now conceded 6.7 goals per 100 set pieces against them.
Alongside them at the top is Aston Villa, who have been surprisingly leaky considering their innovation from attacking set pieces — led by specialist set-piece coach Austin McPhee.
With eight different teams scoring from dead-ball situations, you can decide whether to credit the attacking creativity or lament the defensive frailties.
Exciting title clashes across Europe
Outside of the Premier League, it was a huge weekend of football at the top of the table in Germany and Spain on Saturday.
Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen outclassed Thomas Tuchel’s Bayern Munich to give themselves a five-point cushion at the top of the Bundesliga — continuing their push to end Bayern’s 11 consecutive titles.
In the Spanish capital, Real Madrid also pulled five points clear of their nearest rivals as they dispatched Girona 4-0 — all but ending the fairytale narrative of an unlikely title win for Michel’s side.
Madrid were dominant throughout, with Girona not registering a shot on target across the whole game in the Bernabeu.
Vinicius Jr was at the heart of Madrid’s attacking threat, scoring the opening and assisting Jude Bellingham and Rodrygo Goes — with manager Carlo Ancelotti singling him out as the “best in the world” following his glittering performance.
Madrid so often channel their attack down their left flank when Vinicius Jr is on the field, but it was interesting to see their dominant attacking touches (48 per cent) coming down the right side — their highest share of any La Liga game this season.
With Rodrygo attacking the inside right channel, Lucas Vazquez pushed high from right-back to overload Girona’s left side, supported by Fede Valverde and a drifting Jude Bellingham.
With Girona’s left centre-back Daley Blind serving a one-match suspension, the 32-year-old Juanpe deputised on only his third start of the season. The left-back Miguel Gutierrez’s defensive weaknesses were exposed and targeted more frequently by Madrid with their focus on the right channel.
Ancelotti’s side might have had more of the ball on the opposite flank to Vinicius Jr, but the Brazilian still managed to stamp his authority on the game as Madrid look set to stroll to another La Liga title.
(Marc Atkins/Getty Images)