The 2023-24 season looks set to break, or come close to, surpassing some Premier League records for the number of yellow and red cards shown. We look at the data from across the English top flight so far.

In the summer of 2023, the Premier League, EFL, the FA and PGMOL met to discuss implementing new guidelines to apply to the following season of English football. Two of the key outcomes were a commitment to clamping down on dissent and punishing time-wasting.

There had been a record number of cards for dissent in 2022-23 and the 2022 World Cup had caused a big debate about the amount of added time, factors that played into these decisions. We produced a widely-shared article on the amount of time the ball was in play in Premier League games and the remarkable insights showed why the governing bodies were keen to change the way added time would be calculated.

Yellow Peril

Harsher punishments for dissent and time-wasting were meant to act as a deterrent for players and it was felt a lower threshold of tolerance would soon see players adapt and adjust their behaviour. However, it doesn’t seem to have worked.

This season has already seen a record number of cards for both dissent and time-wasting and that has contributed to a more than 20% increase on both last season’s number of cards per game and the increase is so dramatic that 2023-24 currently has the highest average of cards per game in a single season in top-flight history.

Most Yellow Cards in Premier League

In fact, there have been more yellow cards for dissent and time-wasting this season than in any previous Premier League campaign, already surpassing 2022-23’s full-season totals.

Premier League Yellow Cards for Dissent and Timewasting

Referees’ chief Howard Webb has already said “We have to change mindsets. We will stick to this. We are not going to ease off. This will be here for good.” But it seems that harsher punishments are yet to elicit the desired impact in terms of reducing either offence.

Perhaps punishment has come in another form. The amount of time added on has increased from seven minutes and 12 seconds on average last season to 10 minutes and nine seconds this season and the number of goals in added time in 2023-24 already stands at 67 which surpasses last season’s entire total of 49. But the authorities will be disappointed that the number of offences is not coming down as hoped. Perhaps that’s why there are rumours of experimenting with sin bins and blue cards…

Red Mist

The 2022-23 campaign saw a marked reduction in the number of dismissals, meaning that the total of 30 shown across the whole campaign was the lowest in any season since 1993-94.

1993-94 to 1994-95 saw a big jump in the number of red cards in the top flight. The former had 28 while the next season leapt to 67 dismissals. The next decade had an average of 64 red cards per season, 2004-05 to 2013-14 saw that average drop slightly to 62 per season. After 71 dismissals in 2014-15, we’ve seen another substantial reduction with an average of 42 per season culminating in that record low for a 38-game campaign of just 30 in 2022-23.

This reduction was generally viewed as a good thing, as supporters don’t want to see games affected by one side being reduced to 10 men so often.

However, 2023-24 has seen a remarkable uplift in the number of red cards being dished out. Picking up ‘cheap’ yellows for dissent or time-wasting has contributed to this uplift. There have been 43 dismissals already and we are only 60% of the way through the season. This campaign is set to be one of the most prolific in terms of players sent off in the history of English football and if it carries on at around this rate, there is a good chance that a new record for dismissals might be set.

Games per Red Card in Premier League

Speaking of Blue…

So, which Premier League teams are the worst offenders at talking back to the referee?

Leading the way on dissent this season are Chelsea with 22 players carded so far. Last season they earned 12, so have almost doubled their tally despite having only played 23 games in 2023-24.

The Blues’ numbers are being boosted by Nicolas Jackson, who has picked up a remarkable seven yellow cards for dissent already this season. Enzo Fernández is in joint second with five, so the pair account for more than half of Chelsea’s bookings for dissent this season.

Luton Town are the ‘gentlemen’ of the division with just three players being carded thus far for showing dissent.

Yellow Cards for Dissent in Premier League 2023-24

Chelsea – 22
Manchester United – 18
Brighton and Hove Albion – 16
Fulham – 16
Newcastle United – 15
Wolverhampton Wanderers – 15
Tottenham Hotspur – 13
Bournemouth – 12
Nottingham Forest – 12
Sheffield United – 12
Aston Villa – 11
Manchester City – 11
West Ham United – 11
Crystal Palace – 10
Everton – 9
Liverpool – 9
Brentford – 8
Arsenal – 5
Burnley – 5
Luton Town – 3

Running Down the Clock

In 2022-23, Aston Villa were the team punished most often for time-wasting. They picked up 19 cards for the offence, which was far more than the second worst team Fulham on nine.

Chief culprit was goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, who was booked six times for time-wasting. The Argentina international has two more yellow cards this season and Villa are joint-top of this particular league of shame with 11 cards for time-wasting already this season, alongside Chelsea and Wolves.

Yellow Cards for Time-Wasting in Premier League 2023-24

Aston Villa – 11
Chelsea – 11
Wolverhampton Wanderers – 11
Liverpool – 8
Sheffield United – 8
Luton Town – 7
Arsenal – 6
Brighton and Hove Albion – 6
Burnley – 6
Manchester United – 6
Tottenham Hotspur – 6
Bournemouth – 5
Brentford – 5
Fulham – 5
Everton – 4
Nottingham Forest – 4
Crystal Palace – 3
Manchester City – 3
Newcastle United – 3
West Ham United – 3

Martínez trails the 2023-24 worst offender, Everton midfielder Amadou Onana, who has four cards for time-wasting.

Proportionally though, it’s Liverpool who most likely to see a player shown a card for time-wasting. So far this season, 19% of all the yellow cards they have picked up have been for time-wasting, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Darwin Núñez being punished three times each so far.

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