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How and why are so many penalties being conceded this Premier League season?

Tom White and Ben Mayhew, PA
·2-min read

Manchester United’s early penalty against Manchester City was the 92nd awarded in this season’s Premier League, already matching the total for the whole of last season.

Gabriel Jesus bundled over Anthony Martial to allow Bruno Fernandes to open the scoring in United’s 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium.

Here, the PA news agency looks at how and why so many penalties are being conceded.

Is it down to VAR?

Premier League penalties by season
This season has already matched last season’s total of penalties (PA graphic)

Last season did not see an immediate spike after the introduction of the review system – the average over the last 10 seasons, including this term so far, is 92 penalties, exactly last season’s figure.

The current campaign is racing ahead and, with nearly a quarter of the season remaining, is on course for an all-time high but the delayed reaction suggests there are other factors at work besides a simple VAR spike.

How about the new rule changes then?

Aston Villa’s Matty Cash, centre left, commits a handball against Manchester City
Handballs account for a large share of this season’s penalties (Martin Rickett/PA)

A stricter interpretation of handball offences was a big part of the early-season spike in penalty awards, though that has levelled off somewhat as the season has gone on.

Seventeen of this season’s 92 spot-kicks (18.5 per cent) have been given for handball, along with 19 of 92 (20.7 per cent) last season – an increased share since the introduction of VAR and the tightened handball rules, with 2018-19 having had 103 penalties with just 14 for handball (13.6 per cent).

The longer-term trend is not quite so clear-cut, though, with a 17 per cent share in 2016-17 (18 of 106, the highest overall figure in the years PA has data for), and 19.8 per cent in 2012-13 (17 of 86).

Who are the big beneficiaries?

Jamie Vardy, centre, is brought down for one of Leicester's three penalties against Manchester City
Jamie Vardy (centre) was brought down for one of Leicester’s three penalties against Manchester City (Martin Rickett/PA)

Leicester have had the most penalties this season with 10 including three in one game as they beat Manchester City 5-2 in September.

Manchester United are only one behind after Sunday’s award and have had the most spot-kicks in the top flight in each of the previous two seasons.

United have had more penalties in the last three seasons (35) than over the previous six (27), while at the other end of the league table, Brighton’s eight this season matches the last two seasons combined.