We’ve already seen more red cards in the Premier League this season than last, despite still being five matchdays from the halfway point of the campaign. Why is that? We look at the data.
Just 140 games into the 2023-24 Premier League campaign, we’ve witnessed the red card count surpass last season’s total already. Conor Gallagher’s first-half dismissal for Chelsea versus Brighton was the 31st, overtaking 2022-23’s total of 30 in 380 matches.
31 – There have been 31 red cards in the 140 Premier League games this season, already more than they were in all 380 matches in the division last term (30). Clampdown. pic.twitter.com/gFHcj4slUi— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 3, 2023
With 0.22 red cards per game this season, it’s the highest rate we’ve ever witnessed in the competition and on course to break the existing record of 75 handed out in Premier League matches across a season in both 2002-03 and 2005-06. Across both of those campaigns, five red cards were later overturned and rescinded (two in 2002-03 and three in 2005-06), meaning 2002-03 tops the Premier League charts for the most red cards to remain on player records (73). At the current rate, 2023-24 could reach 11 more cards than that come May (84).
Across last season, in raising the threshold for fouls and serious foul play, Premier League referees showed a little more leniency. After 14 matchdays in 2022-23, we’d seen just 11 dismissals overall – 20 fewer than this season.
Red cards for two cautions are on the increase. The 17 dismissals this season for two yellow cards are already four more than last season (13) and are just five away from being the most in a Premier League campaign for eight years. This is partly down to English football’s governing bodies clamping down on dissent this summer. Overall, 107 cards have been awarded for dissent in the Premier League this term, which is already more than in all seven Premier League seasons since 2017-18 from 240 fewer games. The last season to see more was in 2016-17, with that tally of 159 already not far off before we reach the halfway point of the current campaign.
There was also a clamp down on timewasting after Premier League games in 2022-23 saw the ball in play for under 55 minutes on average. Since 2006-07 – when Opta have detailed card reasons – the season with most cards given for timewasting was last term (89). We’re just 10 away from that total already in 2023-24 (79) and only 37% of the way through this campaign. But evidence suggests it has helped increase the ball-in-play time, with the proportion of time the ball has actively been in play increasing by 1.7% this season (55.7% to 57.4%). Of course, more time with the ball in play – the average Premier League game has seen the ball in play for three minutes and 34 seconds longer than last season – means more time to commit offences that are worthy of a card.
Referees are also much quicker to hand out cards this season than before. There have been 262 yellow cards given to players within the opening half-hour of games in the Premier League this term, at an average of 1.9 per game. That’s up from 1.2 in 2022-23, 1.1 in 2021-22 and more than double the average in 2020-21 (0.9). Both Gallagher and Oliver McBurnie’s red cards at the weekend came from two bookable offences before half-time, while Ashley Young (for Everton vs Liverpool) and Yves Bissouma (for Spurs vs Luton) suffered the same fate for two yellows.
Video Assistant Referee (VAR) intervention is also up from last season when it comes to red cards.
In 2022-23, six red cards issued after VAR intervention in the Premier League, with three dismissals rescinded and downgraded to yellows following a VAR review. In 2023-24, no red cards have been downgraded or rescinded following a VAR review in the competition, while five have already been awarded to players after an intervention from the VAR room in Stockley Park:
Anass Zaroury for Burnley vs Manchester City on 11 August
Lyle Foster for Burnley vs Nottingham Forest on 18 September
Malo Gusto for Chelsea vs Aston Villa on 24 September
Curtis Jones for Liverpool vs Tottenham on 30 September
Cristian Romero for Tottenham vs Chelsea on 6 November
Will we see any team and player card records broken in 2023-24? We look at some Premier League records that could be hit.
Most Red Cards by a Team in a Premier League Season
Liverpool lead the way in the 2023-24 Premier League campaign with four red cards after just 14 games. They are still five off the season record by a single club in the competition, however.
Both Sunderland in 2009-10 and Queens Park Rangers in 2011-12 were given nine red cards across the Premier League season, with Sunderland seeing eight different players dismissed in their record-breaking campaign to equal Leicester’s record from 1994-95.
That Leicester team in 1994-95 are one of four sides to have been given eight red cards across a Premier League season alongside Blackburn Rovers in 1998-99, West Ham United in 1999-00 and Newcastle United in 2008-09.
Most Yellow Cards by a Team in a Premier League Season
Leeds United are the only team to break a century of cautions in England’s top-flight, doing so in the 2021-22 campaign. Leeds’ 101 yellow cards across 2021-22 Premier League season broke the competition record previously held by Sunderland in 2014-15 (94).
This season, Chelsea lead the way with 47 yellows ahead of Wolves (43), Sheffield United (42), Brighton (40), Tottenham (38) and Newcastle (38). At their current rates, all six of those clubs are on course to break Leeds’ record of 101 over a single season.
Most Red Cards by a Player in a Premier League Season
Seven different players have been given as many as three red cards in a single Premier League season:
Vinnie Jones for Wimbledon in 1995-96
Slaven Bilic for Everton in 1997-98
David Batty for Newcastle in 1997-98
Craig Short for Blackburn in 2001-02
Franck Queudrue for Middlesbrough in 2002-03
Wes Brown for Sunderland in 2013-14
Victor Wanyama for Southampton in 2015-16.
Oli McBurnie’s red card against Burnley for Sheffield United at the weekend was his second of the 2023-24 Premier League campaign already (in eight appearances). One more this season and he’ll join this illustrious list.
Most Yellow Cards by a Player in a Premier League Season
There have been seven occasions of a player being given as many as 14 yellow cards across a Premier League season. Those players are:
João Palhinha for Fulham in 2022-23
Étienne Capoue for Watford in 2018-19
José Holebas for Watford in 2016-17
Lee Cattermole for Sunderland in 2014-15
Cheick Tioté for Newcastle in 2010-11
Robbie Savage for Leicester in 2001-02
Mark Hughes for Southampton in 1998-99
Of those seven players, Capoue was the only player to also be given a red card in their yellow-card heavy season. He is the only player in Premier League history to be given 15 cards in a single season.
Chelsea’s Nicolas Jackson is halfway to becoming the eighth player to receive 14 cautions in a single Premier League campaign, with the Senegalese forward on seven yellows after 14 matchdays of 2023-24. Anthony Gordon, Emerson Palmieri and Edson Álvarez are one card behind on six cautions.