Earlier last season, Pep Guardiola vehemently opposed any suggestions that his Manchester City side resorted to tactical fouls to break up play. “I never prepare a game in 10 seasons as a manager thinking about these kind of things, never.” Guardiola said to the media. “I prepare to do our own game, that is what I want, knowing of course the opponent, but I never said I’m going to do that to punish them or cancel them (by) making fouls. Never.” Stats from Opta, however, tell a different story altogether.
As we head into the business end of the season, numbers from statistics experts Opta paint an interesting story when it comes to the Premier League tactical fouls section. With Pep Guardiola at the helm, Manchester City are currently second in the list of the highest foul rates in the Premier League. Coming in at first, is a team managed by a Pep Guardiola disciple - Mikel Arteta's Arsenal. With a foul rate of 8.2%, Arsenal are leading the pack when it comes to the Premier League tactical fouls section. Manchester City come in at second with a tactical foul rate of 7.6%. Interestingly, this number is strikingly close to their tactical foul rate in their 'centurions' season (6.96%).
According to Opta, highest tactical foul rates are Arsenal this season (8.2%), City this season (7.6%) and City 2017-18 (6.96%). Liverpool perhaps surprisingly at the opposite end of the scale with just 3.87% this season.— Jack Pitt-Brooke (@JackPittBrooke) February 18, 2020
Numbers experts Opta have been gathering data on tactical fouls since Man City's 'centurions' season. Since then, Manchester City have been responsible for the second and third-highest foul rates Opta have on record. According to The Athletic, Manchester City have committed 117 fouls so far this season at a rate of 7.6%. In 2017-18, Manchester City committed 180 fouls at rate of 6.96 per cent. Only one club managed to rack up a higher tactical foul rate, Mikel Arteta's Arsenal.
These numbers, therefore, offer a startling insight into Pep Guardiola's approach to games. With Arsenal being coached by a former assistant coach of Manchester City, a pattern has emerged regarding the similarities between the two. Mikel Arteta has brought a more measured approach to Arsenal, with the Gunners displaying some eye-catching possession football in his first game in charge.
The idea of committing a tactical foul is to break up play to halt a counter-attack. Tactical fouls are usually committed by teams committing large numbers in attack that are subsequently caught out on a counter-attack. A tactical foul, therefore, halts the play, giving the defending team a few seconds to regroup in order to avoid conceding. A tactical foul is rarely of a serious nature, more likely being a small tug or a trip usually avoiding a booking. The numbers given by Opta measure the number of opposition turnovers each team faces every season and the number of those turnovers that end in a foul. The relationship between the two is then expressed as a percentage and termed as a tactical fouling rate.