Paul Lambert claims that Aston Villa were the victims of double standards this past Wednesday when his team fell 2-1 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. 

The Villains had come out and played very well, pushing Chelsea right to their limits at Stamford Bridge but ultimately succumbed 2-1 to a resilient Chelsea side, which Jose Mourinho admitted “won ugly.”

Lambert was fuming with referee Kevin Friend’s officiating, claiming that they were “done out of a win” by Friend. Lambert was referring to two key decisions which he claims Friend got wrong: Not awarding a penalty after John Terry allegedly handled the ball inside the Chelsea penalty box and not sending off Branislav Ivanovic for an alleged elbow on Christian Benteke.

Of the penalty incident Lambert told reporters: “It was a clear handball. It’s a stone-waller, a clear penalty. I don’t care what anyone says, that’s a penalty.”

Lambert went on to accuse Friend of being biased towards “big clubs” by saying that “Gabby (Agbonlahor) has won the header and it has hit John’s (Terry) hand. I’m pretty sure that if it had been down the other end, it would have been given.”

It should be noted that in the same match, Chelsea had one legitimate penalty shout and a borderline penalty/free kick shout turned down themselves; one after Demba Ba was clumsily bundled over in the first half, the other for a handball in the second half after a shot cannoned off an Aston Villa players’ arm.

However, the assumption that the “big clubs” always get the big penalty decisions has been floating around for years, and I finally decided that I should do some research into the matter.

For this research I studied penalty kicks given to and conceded by the “big five” (Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal) versus the bottom five teams in the Premier League over four seasons starting in 2009/10 until present.

In 2012/13 there were 85 penalty kicks awarded. The “big five” were awarded 30 (25%) of these penalties with Chelsea being given the most at 11. 

However, awarding 25% of the league 25% of the penalty kicks doesn’t really seem like it is enough to call it a bias. Especially when you consider that West Bromwich Albion were given the same amount of penalty kicks as Manchester United (7) and Fulham the same amount as Arsenal (6). Every team in the league was given more penalties than Tottenham Hotspur who had none at all, all season.

Lambert may have a gripe with officiating because last year his team conceded the most penalties in the league at eight (about 7% of all penalties given), yet the bottom five conceded just 18.7% (22) of all penalty kicks last season. The “big five” conceded 10.2% (12).

Without Aston Villa’s 7% (8) last season, that number drops to 11.7% (14). Being that of the “big five” only four were awarded penalties the percentage of penalties they conceded is a little surprising if you buy into the “big club bias” argument.

In 2010/11 for example the “big five” conceded more penalties (28) than the bottom five (24).  In the same year Blackpool had the second most penalties with eight behind Manchester City who were given nine. Manchester United was given five.

Here are some clubs that were awarded more penalties in the 2010/11 season than Manchester United: Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, Sunderland, West Ham United, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion.

In 2009/10 the “big five” and the bottom five were actually given the exact same number of penalty kicks – 32 out of 109. Approximately 70% of the penalty kicks that season were shared between the “big five” and bottom five teams.

What about the 10 teams in-between them? If we are going to talk about big club bias, surely the 2009/10 season set a precedent for mid-table-club-bias?

Obviously I’m kidding.

The problem with the “big club bias” argument is that there isn’t enough of a disparity in the percentage of penalty kicks given to the “big clubs” versus the rest of the league.

On average over the last four seasons the “big five” have been about 32% of all penalties given in the Premier League. For me, that’s not enough to indicate a bias. That means that 68% of the penalty kicks given to teams in the Premier League every season are not given to a member of the “big five.”

For me, that indicates it’s easier to get a penalty if you’re not part of that group, than if you are. 

Should Paul Lambert feel aggrieved his side weren’t awarded a penalty kick? Probably. Should Paul Lambert accuse officials of “big club bias?”

Probably not. 

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