Fact check: Is the trailing team free to foul away?


Can the trailing team commit fouls without triggering a card as suggested by pwomboli in a recent thread on reddit? We decided to check it out.

The claim

“You forgot to mention that the trailing team essentially is free to foul away.”
(pwomboli on Reddit)

Although pwomboli later changed his mind, we decided to run the claim through the FUTfacts grinder.

Now, pwomboli didn’t specify why EA would want the referee to act more lenient on the trailing side. An educated guess would be that it’s the usual story about EA attempting to make matches even, which is something we already debunked many times. FUT matches are are neither made even through momentum, handicapping, red card boosts or whatever you happen to fancy.

In addition to that, you probably noticed the OLP logo during the game’s load sequence. The OLP logo means that FIFA is an official licensed product of the international football federation, aka FIFA. Call me unimaginative, but I don’t believe that FIFA would accept features directly contradicting the fair play rules in an OLP. Although FIFA probably doesn’t audit EA’s source code, they would discover it sooner or later if a high-profile product like FIFA was in breach of basic fair play provisions. Why would EA run that risk?

What the data tells us

If the reservations above doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, a quick look at our match database should remove the final shred of doubt.

According to our database, the average FUT 16 match contained some 3.8 fouls. A little more than half – 54 % – of those fouls were committed by the losing team. While 26 % of all fouls triggered a card, a solid 30 % of the losing side’s fouls resulted in a card. As opposed to that, only 24 % of the fouls committed by the winning side triggered a card. And, should I add, all differences mentioned here are statistically significant with more than 99.9 % certainty.

If we assume that losing teams usually also were trailing to a larger extent than their opponents, our numbers indicate that leading teams are less likely to concede a card from a foul than trailing teams. In other words the exact opposite of pwomboli’s thesis.

Does this statistic then suggest that the leading team is free to foul away, meaning that pwomboli’s thesis is right in reverse? I would be hesitant with that conclusion. After all, tackling is a skill thing as well. A reasonable explanation to these numbers is that the winning players won because they among other things were better at tackling. In addition to that, it’s quite obvious that winning teams generally tend to have more possession, which in turn means that they will be tackling and therefore also fouling less.

  Fouls Cards Card %
Winning team 1579 373 24%
Losing team 1798 540 30%

Trailing isn’t the same as losing

You may of course argue that there is a difference between trailing and losing, and hence that trailing teams could be free to foul away even if losing teams aren’t. So, could it possibly be that trailing teams don’t concede more cards per foul even though losing teams do?

To answer this, let’s narrow the scope of our sample to matches where the winner was the only team to score and hence be in lead. In other words, we are now looking at 1-0, 0-3 and 5-0 matches. Even with this narrow subset of data, we still find that losing teams concede significantly more cards per foul. Hence, it is indisputable that teams which spend more time trailing also concede more cards per foul.

One thought on “Fact check: Is the trailing team free to foul away?

  • 2017-08-16 at 12:52

    I really like this website and this article. I like the scientific approach based on facts and data and not based on feelings, hopes or conspiracy theories. Unforunately, a majority of Fifa players only look for mistakes in the game but don’t think about their own mistakes. This website is a great antipole to that. Keep up the good work 😉


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