MARK CLATTENBURG: Why there will be over 200 Premier League penalties

MARK CLATTENBURG: The Premier League is set to see more than 200 penalties this season… here’s why

  • The 2020-21 Premier League season is expected to see more than 200 penalties
  • VAR is not to blame for the spike in spot kicks – the technology is doing its job 
  • More penalties are being given to away teams in games behind closed doors 
  • Referees are also becoming more prepared and study a team’s corner routines

Until this season, the average number of penalties per Premier League campaign was 88. 

But with 36 awarded in 68 games already, we are due more than 200 in 2020-21. What has stood out when watching matches is that referees are having to make five or six big decisions a game. 

When I was in the Premier League, I might have had to make one or two. So, what is behind this spike in spot-kicks?

The Premier League is set for over 200 penalties this season – so why are so many being given?


VAR was operating in the Premier League in 2019-20, when there were 92 penalties awarded. But it wasn’t fully utilised. 

How many times did we say we wished our referees reviewed incidents on their pitchside monitors? 

Those at Stockley Park were not correcting the calls of their colleagues on the pitch. 

Well now they are, and VAR is not missing a thing. Incidents in the box are being spotted and scrutinised more than ever thanks to the technology. 

We wanted VAR to do its job and it is, albeit with the odd controversy.

VAR is not missing a thing – incidents in the box are being spotted and they were not before


There has not been a change in what is considered a foul. Nor have the PGMOL started advising: ‘Any contact, award the foul.’ 

Mohamed Salah may have made a meal out of Arthur Masuaku’s challenge but the West Ham man ran that risk when he dived in. 

To those saying Liverpool could have been awarded the penalty but Salah should also have been booked for making the most of the contact — that cannot happen. 

Liverpool’s Mo Salah (right) was accused of diving after a challenge by Arthur Masuaku (left)

If the contact had been initiated by Salah and he was trying to con the referee, then by all means caution him. 

But this was Masuaku on Salah, and Kevin Friend made the right call. Had he not given the penalty he would have been criticised as there was clear contact. 

But he did give it and he’s being criticised for that too.


Remember when Lucas Digne headed the ball on to Joel Ward’s arm? Or when Jordan Ayew’s shot caught the hand of Victor Lindelof? Or when Matt Doherty was penalised after the ball bounced off Harry Winks’ foot and on to his arm? 

All led to penalties but the Premier League have since said they would not have been given under their new interpretation of handball. 

Those spot-kicks contributed to the current figures, with some players practically punished for having arms!  But that said, we could have seen even more penalties. 

Some holding in the box has gone unpunished, like Doherty on Leandro Trossard, and Harry Maguire on Cesar Azpilicueta.

The new handball rule has led to controversy too, such as Joel Ward’s foul for Crystal Palace 


There are no fans in stadiums putting pressure on players and referees and it is only natural that would play a part. 

A few seasons ago, away teams were being awarded an average of 0.08 penalties per game. This season it’s 0.29. 

Maybe referees aren’t as hesitant in pointing to the spot now that they don’t have thousands screaming at them. That never bothered me — one day in 2014 I awarded three against Manchester United at Old Trafford — but it could be a factor. 

Maybe players aren’t as alert without fans in attendance. I also wonder if mental fatigue is playing a part too. 

Players haven’t had much of a break and it’s easy to make mistakes when so much is being asked of you.


More penalties are being given to away teams, such as Leicester’s spot kick away at Leeds

Referees are becoming more prepared to spot any underhand tactics at corner routines

Referees do their homework prior to taking charge of fixtures. They’d be fools not to. 

They will research the players and any problems in previous games. They will take note of tactics at corner kicks. 

This is not so they can make pre-judgments. This is so they can be ready to referee a match to the best of their ability.

They can even make managers and captains aware during the pre-match meeting what they don’t want to see.

Penalties are on the rise, but the fact is most have been awarded correctly.

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