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The data behind bookings in soccer: What to consider ahead of the 2023/2024 season

The data behind bookings in soccer: What to consider ahead of the 2023/2024 season
There are plenty of soccer markets upon which you can bet beyond the more obvious options of the match Money Line, or who the goal scorer might be.

One of them is cards. The Premier League average is 3.3 yellow cards per game, so for most matches the line will be set at 3.5 and you can choose whether you think there will be over or under that many cards. Soccer data expert Andrew Beasley delves into the data to help find the edge in the market.


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There are several factors to consider before placing a bet. Unlike goal markets, where the referee has minimal influence beyond potentially awarding a penalty, the match officials are obviously hugely important for cards.

While Video Assistant Referees (VAR) also play a part, they dont adjudicate on yellow card decisions beyond determining if there is potential for the miscreant to be sent off. With just 0.11 red cards per Premier League match, a card bet is very unlikely to hinge upon VAR.

It will undoubtedly be determined by the match referee, though, as almost as all offences which lead to bookings are subjectively judged. If a player takes their shirt off after scoring a goal, they know they will receive a yellow card, yet two different officials may view and punish an identical foul differently.

This is why conducting research into referee card rates is so important. Current Premier League refs Jarred Gillett, Andy Madley, and Graham Scott all average under three yellows per game across their careers, while the likes of Stuart Attwell, David Coote, and Craig Pawson are over the 3.5 mark. As small as the margins are, they are clearly relevant to your bet.

You can also investigate card rates for teams, both for and against. In 2022/23, West Ham Uniteds Premier League matches featured a total of 98 yellow cards (2.6 per game) while Crystal Palaces fixtures saw 159 (4.2 per game).

Most bookings – around three quarters – were awarded for fouls. However, that leaves an average of just under one per game that were given for other offences, and they could easily make a difference to the outcome of your bet.

Research shows that these cards are given at very different rates by different referees, with certain teams being penalised far more often than others. Its worth knowing who they are before placing a bet on the card markets.


Dissent – broadly defined as showing a clear lack of respect for the match officials – was the most frequently punished offence outside of fouls in 2022/23. It even led to a sending off, with Wolves'Mario Lemina shown a yellow card for dissent at Southampton in February 2023, after having already been booked for a foul.

The referee who took exception that day was Jarred Gillett, and Lemina should perhaps not have been surprised that he took exception to whatever he said. Only Chris Kavanagh issued a higher proportion of his total yellow cards for dissent last season.

Leminas teammates also erred in similar ways. Wolves and Tottenham received the joint-most yellow cards for dissent, with Fulham just one behind. At the other end of the scale, Nottingham Forest and West Hams players appear to have disrespected officials the least.

While Lemina may have been the only player dismissed following dissent, he was not the divisions most cautioned offender for it in 2022/23.

Pascal Groß and Aleksandar Mitrović were each booked four times for this infraction, with the latter also being sent off in a cup tie at Old Trafford for physically confronting the referee (unsporting conduct). Players with three cards for dissent included Gabriel Jesus and James Maddison, so perhaps attackers are more inclined to argue when they are not given the decisions they believe they are due.


Research from Opta shows that Premier League matches in 2022/23 saw the lowest average ball-in-play time since records began 11 seasons earlier. The issue is starting to be acknowledged as a blight on the game, with fans not seeing enough action for the price of their ticket or television subscription.

Newcastles matches saw the least playing time last season, with Brentford, Leeds, and Nottingham Forest next in line. However, it was fifth-bottom Aston Villa who received by far the most bookings for time-wasting.

In their 1-1 draw at Liverpool in May 2023, Villa collected four yellow cards for time-wasting, more than 11 clubs received in the entirety of the campaign.

Their main offender throughout 2022/23 was Emiliano Martínez. The Argentine collected six bookings for time-wasting, a tally topped by only two clubs other than his own. The majority of the 13 players with at least two yellow cards for this offence were either goalkeepers or played for Villa, and Martínez obviously ticks both boxes.

While Villa are clearly worth monitoring on this front in 2023/24, so are Fulham. On three of the four occasions Tosin Adarabioyo was cautioned for time-wasting, Bernd Leno also was later in the same game. Marco Silvas side won all three games – two of them by a one-goal margin – so it would appear to be a systematic plan.

Fulham and Aston Villa will need to be on guard when Anthony Taylor is refereeing their matches. He gave almost a fifth of all yellow cards issued for time-wasting in the 2022/23 Premier League.


Time-wasting obviously tends to occur late in games – partly as teams get closer to a result theyre trying to protect, but also because referees dont punish it early in matches. The average time a yellow card was given for this offence was after 77 minutes in 2022/23.

Bookings for excessive celebration were even later on average – the 85th minute – because very few players are ripping off their shirt for a first-half goal. However, while dissent yellow cards were given in the 70th minute on average, the earliest of those issued was for diving. Its never too early to try and con the referee, most likely with the aim of winning a penalty.

Twenty-two players were cautioned for diving last season, with no repeat offenders. Newcastle were the most punished team with three yellow cards, and midway through the campaign they signed Anthony Gordon, who had been booked for diving against them in October 2022.

There were no referees who gave more than three yellow cards for this offence either, with Taylor and Andy Madley the joint-top men. Here are the bookings that occurred for diving last season.

In a single game, theres every chance none of the above issues will have an impact. The trends are there though, so make sure you bear them in mind the next time you venture into the cards markets.

Feel informed for the new season? You can make your soccer plays on Pinnacle here and follow Andrew @BassTunedToRed on Twitter for more insights.

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Andrew Beasley
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