WLB Analysis : The Red Card Effect


IN the latest of his intriguing and hugely popular analysis columns, Will Dyer (@w2dyer) takes a look at how sending's-off affect football games and which sides to avoid backing in:play when they go down to 10 men.

There's nothing worse than backing a side and seeing them lose a man via a sending off, so I thought I'd do some research into the effect of a red card on a football match. As we know, an ordering off can transform a game and more often than not, decide the final outcome.

Usually when teams receive a red card they tend to settle for a point or shut up shop if they're leading, which in turn, invites pressure. The problem with both approaches is that they (naturally) douse the competitiveness of a tie and almost always make it a very one-sided affair.

Cards In The Med

I’ve watched a fair few European games in recent weeks and I’ve noticed a ridiculous amount of red cards being thrown around. Yeah, I've always known that foreign referees tend to be a bit card happy but some of the tackles and misdemeanours that are greeted with a card in the modern game are quite absurd. In Portugal it seems you can be carded for simply looking at your opponent! Games can regularly see over 100 booking points and much more.

I think paying attention to disciplinary records can be quite a useful part of a punter’s repertoire. In ‘booking points’ 10 points are awarded for a yellow and 25 for a red, so a maximum of 35 per player.

In Spain, Elche and Espanyol have both averaged just over 35 booking points per game in this season’s La Liga with 11 other sides also averaging 30 or more. It doesn’t surprise me to see that three of the top six; Real (23.6) Barca (16.7) and Villareal (24.5) occupy three of the four lowest average booking points-per-game.

A Cross-league Comparison

Not one side in the Premier League averages 30; Sunderland are the highest with 26.6 and we all know how dirty they can be. Lee Cattermole, I’m looking at you!

In Italy Sassuolo have a stand-out, whopping 37 booking points-per-game. That’s almost the equivalent of four yellows a game. Like in Spain though the best sides tend to be the cleanest with six of the top 10 in the Serie A averaging 25 or less booking points-per-game. The average booking points-per-game so far this season are;

  • 30.1 in La Liga
  • 27.5 in the Serie A
  • 21.3 in the Premier League

I will put my neck on the line here and say that, categorically, this is not a reflection of tough tackling going on in Europe, far from it. The Premier League is certainly the hardest-hitting of the three; those booking points are just a reflection of the refereeing and perception of fouls in Europe.

To hear that Stoke and Burnley are the only two sides yet to have a red card in this season’s Premier League backs up that point perfectly. Five of the 10 PL sides to average 20 booking points a game or less are in the bottom eight; proof then that Premier League bookings are far less significant in a sides ability to win than in Italy and Spain.

Red Cards And Results

There have been 69 red cards in Serie A this season. The final results of those games you ask? 34 sides that received a red lost, 26 drew and nine won. In most cases, (5) those sides that won with a red were benefiting from their opponents also receiving a sending off amongst their ranks.

That means only 5.8% of sides who were playing with less players than their opponent won the game. So in Serie A, as expected, red cards severely reduce your ability to win a game.

However, the influence of a red card seems to be far lower in Spain. There have been just 53 red cards in La Liga so far this season despite their high number of average booking points. This makes it clear that Spanish referees are happy to give out yellow cards but more reluctant to show a red, the opposite of Italy.

The 53 red cards in La Liga this season only contributed to 22 sides losing, with 10 drawing and quite surprisingly 21 winning. 17 of those that won with a red card had less players than their opponents and that results in 32.1% of sides a man down still managing to win their games.

Many of those red cards did come late in the game when the losing side were chasing a result and the winning side ended up committing ‘professional fouls’ but it still bears a stark contrast to the Italian win percentage.

Fiery Italians

Let’s put those Italian red cards into perspective. In 250 Premier League games in 2014/15 there have been 47 red cards. One red card every 5.3 games. Whereas, there have been 69 red cards in 230 Serie A games; that's one red card per 3.3 games. In Spain that hankering for yellows, but reluctance for reds shines through, with just 53 reds in 229 games. A ratio of one red every 4.32 games, much closer to the Premier League average.

AC Milan have had eight reds and Sassuolo seven this season so backing those sides to win could be quite risky considering their disciplinary records. Genoa, Parma and Inter have each had five. Inter are struggling to impress yet again, currently in ninth place and Parma are rock-bottom. Coincidence? I think not.

Let’s take this a little further, after all this is WLB Analysis! A red card stopped Milan winning again this weekend; this time at home to underdogs, Empoli. In the eight games in which Milan have had a red card this season they have only managed to win twice and in both of those fixtures their opponents were also down to 10 men.

The same goes to Sassuolo who've won just one game in which they have received a red and their opponents Inter were also a man down. So neither have won a game in which they have had less players on the pitch than their opponents.


I think you have to be very careful when betting on the 1X2 market with a side that has a poor disciplinary record. I believe, like many, that the key to success in football betting and betting in general is finding every edge you can. The following points make it quite clear that having a poor disciplinary record can be detrimental to your ability to win.

  • Of the eight sides averaging 30 or more booking points in the Serie A, six are in the bottom half while Real Madrid and Barcelona average two of the three lowest booking points in Spain and are first and second.
  • In-play betting on sides who’ve had a red card to lose seems a bit of a dangerous avenue in Spain. In Italy though, things go a lot more to plan and opposing those sides that receive a lot of red cards when they look to be in for a tough game could be quite profitable.
  • Checking disciplinary records can be time-consuming and I’m not suggesting you do it for every 1X2 bet but if you are really attracted by an Italian side in the Match Odds market and you are considering having a large wager, then knowing their disciplinary record can only serve to help you avoid that sinking feeling when you see the side you’ve backed receive a red card.
  • This weekend Sassuolo are away in Naples. Napoli have had the least red cards in Serie A this season (one). The Blues look a good bet. Milan are at home to the Cesena, they drew with them in the reverse fixture and have won just one of their last eight Serie A games. Averaging a red card every 2.9 games and with four in their last eight, I for one will not be backing them.

Your View

What do you think of Will's piece? Do disciplinary records come into your mind when punting on a game?

We'd love to know your thoughts so let us know in the comments box below!

About Author

Will's an avid supporter of his local team, Swindon Town. He got into betting after a serious case of beginners luck landing a 14 fold BTTS accumulator. Whilst mostly transfixed to the English Leagues, he can't get enough of football and can regularly be found watching more obscure matches from around the globe. Will has a growing interest in American Football after watching the Atlanta Falcons in the States a few years ago. Outside of betting he loves nothing more than snowboarding, travelling the world and a weekend with his pals.

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