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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 9 hours ago
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Nov 7, 2013

Nervous Spurs; trophy-hunting Eto'o

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

I'm a big Spurs fan. I noticed that, traditionally, Spurs don't perform well against the regulars in the top four (Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool) and we usually end up outside the top four. It got me wondering what our record is against the best sides and if good results against the top teams are a must for being crowned champions? -- Kah Leong from Singapore

It is an accurate observation. A major factor in Tottenham's struggles against the top four in the Premier League era, by the way, has been their poor record against clubs that tend to finish near the division's summit. In the Premier League era, they have won four of 42 league games against Manchester United, three in 43 against Chelsea and nine in 43 against Arsenal (and, even then, they have won only five of the past 38).

Tottenham's results against the top four help explain why, more often than not, they have not finished there themselves. Over the past 10 seasons, they have taken only 70 points from a possible 240 against the top four (or the fifth-place team when they finished fourth themselves) and have never finished a season with a winning record -- either with more victories than defeats or with more than 12 points -- against the best of the rest. The only consolation is that their record in the past five seasons -- winning 12 games and taking 46 points -- is far better than their record in the previous five, which yielded only four wins and 24 points.

Record against the top four (or top three and the fifth-place team when Spurs finished fourth) Turning to the champions over the same period, we examined their results against the rest of the top five (rather than the top four, but it gives eight games a season and thus offers equivalent numbers).

Champions' record against the top five 

It is obvious the various champions have a hugely superior record. They have won more than three times as many top games as Tottenham and taken more than twice as many points; indeed, the average is just more than two points per game. The two best champions in such summit clashes were Roberto Mancini's 2011-12 Manchester City, who famously beat Manchester United 6-1 and won seven of their eight top-five games -- losing only away at Arsenal -- and Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side of 2005-06, which also took 21 points from 24; their sole defeat came away at Old Trafford. Indeed, Mourinho's two title-winning Chelsea teams took 41 points from a possible 48 against the rest of the top five, statistics that explain why they dominated the division both times. The two weakest champions, by this definition, are both Manchester United teams (indeed, the four lowest points totals in these eight fixtures are all from United). The winners of 2008-09 and 2012-13 took only nine and 11 points, respectively (indeed, Spurs, with 11, had the same haul last season). However, in their defence, Sir Alex Ferguson's final champions had already clinched the title before they drew at Arsenal and lost at home to Chelsea: Their record might well have been substantially better otherwise. The side of 2008-09 were outperformed by Liverpool, who took 18 points from their eight supposedly toughest games, against the best, but excelled against the rest: They dropped only two points all season against the teams that finished between ninth and 20th, taking 70 from a possible 72.

If Chelsea win the league this season, Samuel Eto'o will have won the title in England, Italy and Spain. Has any player ever achieved this? 
-- Marcel from South Africa Not yet, no. There are players who have won league titles in each of the three combinations of two countries -- England and Spain, England and Italy, Spain and Italy -- but no one so far who has triumphed in all three divisions. Or not as a footballer, anyway: Mourinho is the only manager to win the league in each country (twice each in England and Italy, once in Spain), although Carlo Ancelotti could emulate him this season. Eto'o, by the way, won the Spanish league three times while at Barcelona (2005, 2006, 2009) and its Italian counterpart with Inter in 2010.

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