Manchester City and the art of tactical fouling

Manchester City beat West Ham United 5-0 in their first game of the new season as the champions showed no signs of letting their grip on the Premier League title loose. But a familiar accusation against Guardiola’s side came up once again as West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini accused them of tactical fouling. Pellegrini said,“Every time we tried to arrive in their box they committed fouls. We were innocent in that regard, if you review the game that is why we didn’t create too many chances in the first half. All our offensive moments of attacking ended in a foul. You can look at the statistics. They committed 13 fouls, we committed five. But that wasn’t the reason why we lost.”

What is tactical fouling?

Tactical fouling is generally referred to the act of cynically fouling(no attempt to get the ball) an opposition player, generally in the midfield zone in order to prevent counter-attacks. Teams like Manchester City who like to dominate the ball and overload the final third with a lot of players employ tactical fouling in order for their defensive players to get back into shape before the opposition can attack them.

tactical fouling
Fouls committed in the West Ham vs Man City Game (Source: whoscored.com)

It is clear that City’s fouls are more in West Ham’s half where as West Ham’s 5 fouls are all over the place. It’s really hard to point out the teams which consistently use tactical fouling from the data because teams like City tend to dominate possession thereby on average commit less number of fouls than usual.

How do we stop tactical fouling?

Because tactical fouling is generally utilized by the stronger team, the laws of the game have to be changed in order to make the game more equal. If a team like City commit more players in their final third, they will have a higher chance to score more goals but at the same time they are negating the risk of leaving themselves exposed to counter-attacks via tactical fouling. Generally, referees do give out yellow cards for cynical fouls where the player committing the foul has absolutely no intention to get the ball. But even yellow cards are not an adequate punishment as the attacking team looses the positional superiority they had gained earlier.

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