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Jan 3, 2013

Loan Rangers; Mind the gap

If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to ESPN's team of football anoraks at asknorman@hotmail.com and they will try to answer as many as possible.

I have got a question regarding players who are on loan. Stronger teams usually loan out their players to weaker teams to gain experience. However, I wonder if there were any players who got loaned out to another team, who did better than their parent club, Kelvin from Canada asked.

There are. A very prominent example came last season when Chelsea allowed Yossi Benayoun to spend the season at Arsenal. The Gunners were third at the end of the Premier League season, three places ahead of their London rivals, even if Chelsea did have the consolation of winning the Champions League. The previous year, meanwhile, Stoke (eventually 13th) sent Eidur Gudjohnsen to Fulham (eighth) for the second half of the campaign, though the Icelander made a minimal impact for both clubs.

In the 2010-11 season, the Cottagers also took Nicky Shorey from Aston Villa, who ended up a place beneath them, while Manchester City took Marton Fulop from Sunderland, seven places below them, although that was a short-term move because of a goalkeeping injury crisis and he only played three games.

West Brom borrowed Steven Reid from Blackburn, who came four places below them, in the 2010-11 campaign while, last season, Premier League side Albion took goalkeeper Ben Foster on loan from Championship side Birmingham. However, like many loan deals, it was a move made with an eye to the permanent deal that was finalised this summer. As such, it may count as a technicality, as it was when Tomasz Kuszczak spent 2006-07 on loan with Manchester United from West Brom, before a long-term move that had already been agreed was officially rubberstamped.

However, the experts at raiding clubs below them without paying a transfer fee are Blackpool. The Championship club currently have striker Wes Thomas on loan from Bournemouth who, as a League One club, are a division below them. During their season in the Premier League two years ago, they borrowed Luke Varney from Championship team Derby and took Jason Puncheon on loan from Southampton, then a League One club (Puncheon also left Championship side Southampton on loan for Premier League QPR last season). And in the previous campaign, 2009-10, Blackpool borrowed Stephen Dobbie from Swansea. The Swans finished seventh, Blackpool sixth and, helped by Dobbie's goals, the Seasiders went up via the play-offs.

Meanwhile, Portsmouth's financial problems meant that they sent plenty of players, some of them big earners, out to other clubs last season. Liam Lawrence (Cardiff), Hayden Mullins (Reading), Stephen Henderson (West Ham), Erik Huseklepp (Birmingham) all finished higher in the table than their employers. Indeed, Portsmouth were relegated while both West Ham and Reading were promoted, and Cardiff and Birmingham reached the play-offs. In the 2009-10 season, Portsmouth loaned David Nugent to Burnley and, while both clubs were relegated, the Clarets finished ahead of Pompey. As far more loans are permitted in the lower leagues, it is not so uncommon for a player to be loaned to a higher-ranking club.

There are a couple of situations where it could happen in the Premier League this season: West Bromwich Albion, featuring Romelu Lukaku, could finish ahead of Chelsea, while West Ham, including Andy Carroll, may end up ahead of Liverpool. Both are unlikely but not impossible.

What are the largest and smallest gaps in points between the first and last placed sides in the final table of a season in England? Shawn from Oregon asked.

Let's start with the easier question. In 2007-08, Manchester United won the title with 87 points and Derby propped up the Premier League with a mere 11. That is a difference of 76 points or, to put it another way, exactly two points per game.

It equalled a record set two years earlier, where both the best and worst teams earned four more points each: Chelsea were top with 91, Sunderland bottom with 15.

As for the tightest top divisions in history, we have to look back rather further. In 1927-28, just 16 points separated champions Everton, who took 53 points, from last-placed Middlesbrough (37).

That was equalled ten years later, when Arsenal won the league with 52 points and West Bromwich Albion propped up the table with 36. There are a couple of things to point out: firstly, both were 42-game leagues at that point and, secondly, there were only two points for a win.

If we were to go back and retrospectively award three for a win, the gap would be stretched to 25 points in each case. However, in 1937-38, West Brom would have only been 23 points behind champions Arsenal, with Birmingham, who won fewer matches, 25 adrift and replacing them in 22nd and last position, instead of 18th, where they ended at the time. Indeed, the 1937-38 campaign appears officially the most competitive ever, with only five points separating the bottom 13 sides after 42 matches.

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