Man City: Raheem Sterling says they are 'butchered' - is he right?

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FA Cup: Referees have to protect the players - Pep Guardiola

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling says his side are being "butchered" by bad tackles, and team-mate Bernardo Silva suggests the Premier League leaders are being targeted by opponents.

Manager Pep Guardiola only named six out of a possible seven substitutes for the 1-1 draw at Burnley, claiming he did not have enough players because of injury.

But are City the victims of more - and worse - fouls than their rivals? BBC Sport looks at the stats...

Who are the most fouled teams?

"For football in general players are the artists. The only thing they can do is protect them," Guardiola said in January.

The runaway Premier League leaders have forged a reputation for fast-flowing, attacking football this season, scoring 74 goals - 15 more than the division's next top scorers, Liverpool.

But their manager has expressed frustration at a number of fouls committed against his side recently, urging referees to protect his players.

Leroy Sane was ruled out for "six or seven weeks" after being injured in a challenge by Cardiff's Joe Bennett in the FA Cup, with the winger one of seven senior City players currently sidelined.

But City are, in fact, only the 12th most-fouled team in the English top-flight this season, with West Ham the victims of 66 more than Guardiola's side.

Most fouled teams in the Premier League
Source: Opta
West Ham324Southampton261
Bournemouth291Man City258
Man Utd287Arsenal257
Crystal Palace276West Brom247
Swansea275Leicester 236
Stoke 267Brighton195

Are particular players targeted?

City have won 22 of their 26 Premier League games this season to open up a 13-point lead over second-placed Manchester United.

But Sterling says some teams have resorted to kicking the league leaders once they go in front.

"Some tackles have been awful," said the 23-year-old. "It's not what I expect in a top-flight match, especially when teams are losing and go out to kick players."

Sterling has been the Manchester City player fouled the most times in the league this season, but the England international ranks eighth for the whole division.

The winger has drawn 44 fouls in 24 appearances in 2017-18, making him the only City player to feature in the league's top 25.

Watford striker Richarlison leads the way after being fouled 77 times so far, with Tottenham's Dele Alli and Swansea's Jordan Ayew among those winning more free-kicks than Sterling.

Most fouled players graphic

Do City dish it out themselves?

City players have received 41 yellow cards and two reds, meaning they have collected 1.57 yellow cards per game in the opening 26 matches.

One of the dismissals was for Sterling celebrating with fans after his 97th-minute winner against Bournemouth and the other for Kyle Walker receiving two first-half bookings in the draw with Everton.

However, the stats do suggest City have come in for some rougher treatment - with teams playing against the leaders this season being booked 55 times and receiving three red cards.

West Ham - the most-fouled team in the division - have picked up five more bookings than any other team in the top flight.

City are eighth in that table...

Most yellow cards

Chelsea have picked up the fewest yellow cards (30), but are joint top of the list when it comes to reds, having received four.

The dismissals of Sterling and Walker also mean only four teams have been shown more red cards than City this term...

Most red cards

They have, however, committed fewer fouls than any other team - 229 fouls in 26 matches, which averages 8.8 per game.

Everton have committed the most fouls - 325 in total, 12.5 per game - while West Ham are 14th in the list, despite being shown the most yellow cards.

Who has conceded the most fouls?
TeamFouls concededFouls conceded per game
West Brom30211.6
Manchester United29611.4
Crystal Palace29411.3

Which games have been the dirtiest?

City have been involved in one of the 17 'dirtiest' games of the season - their 4-1 win over Tottenham in December.

BBC Sport's Garth Crooks said both Spurs' Alli and Harry Kane were lucky not to be sent off in that game for "horrendous tackles".

The game ended with City receiving two yellow cards and Tottenham four, from a total of 20 fouls.

The 2-2 draw between Everton and Crystal Palace in November was the dirtiest game of the season so far in terms of fouls, with 26 and five yellow cards.

Which games have had the most fouls?
FixtureFouls conceded
Everton v Crystal Palace26
Chelsea v Tottenham21
Tottenham v West Ham20
Manchester United v Chelsea20
Tottenham v Manchester City20

So are City 'being butchered'?

In truth, it's hard to say either way from the statistics.

Some teams are victim to more fouls, and there are individual players at other clubs who have been fouled more often. Furthermore, City sit mid-table in the yellow and red card rankings.

They have given away fewer fouls themselves than anyone else, but that could be a reflection of their dominance of possession - if you have the ball, you are not making tackles.

And maybe the fouls against them are simply more high profile because they are the league leaders?

The debate continues...

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