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May 24, 2011

Repeat finalists and Falcao's goals

Norman Hubbard is ESPNsoccernet's resident anorak. If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to asknorman@hotmail.com and he'll try to answer as many as possible.

In 2005 and 2007 respectively Liverpool and AC Milan contested the Champions League final. Similarly in 2009 and this year the Champions League final features Manchester United and Barcelona. How often have the same two teams played the Champions League or the European Cup final against each other? Mario Pool asked.

There are three other instances of clubs facing each other twice in European Cup finals although in each instance, their meetings were sufficiently distant that no player could appear in both matches. Two of them involve AC Milan, who beat Benfica 2-1 in 1963 and 1-0 in 1990. They defeated Ajax 4-1 in 1969, Pierino Prati with a hat-trick, but lost to the Dutch side 1-0 in 1995, with Patrick Kluivert scoring the only goal. Ajax, meanwhile, lost their title to Juventus the following season in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw; they had beaten the Turin club 1-0 courtesy of a Johnny Rep goal in 1973 to win a third successive European Cup.

I remember that Chelsea won their second title after a 50-year gap. Is that a record? Which teams have taken the longest time between championship triumphs? And what about in cups? Mohamed Sheriff from Chennai, India asked.

Chelsea did indeed go 50 years between winning the First Division in 1955 and the Premier League under Jose Mourinho in 2005. It isn't an English record, however, with Blackburn waiting 81 years between their second league title in 1914 and their third, in 1995. That enabled them to surpass the previous longest wait: Aston Villa were champions for the sixth time in 1910, but their seventh title did not come until 1981, 71 years later.

The longest gap between FA Cup triumphs is the 69 years between Portsmouth's victories in 1939 and 2008.

I've been following European football for a 15 seasons now and never before have I seen (a) a player (Falcao) score as many as 17 goals in one season in European competition and (b) three Portuguese semi-finalists and all Portuguese final. Are either of these recent/all time records? Anurag Gandhi asked

Falcao's 17 goals is indeed a Europa League (or UEFA Cup record), surpassing the 15 Jurgen Klinsmann scored for Bayern Munich in 1995-6. It is not unknown for there to be three semi-finalists, including both finalists, from the same country: in 2007, winners Sevilla, runners-up Espanyol and Osasuna ensured Spain had three of the last four. I expected to find another example in the 1990s, a decade when the Italian clubs dominated the UEFA Cup - there were four finals between two Serie A sides - but to my surprise, on none of those occasions did a third Serie A side reach the semi-finals.

However, remarkably, there was one season when one country supplied all four semi-finalists. The year was 1979-80 and the country West Germany, as it then was. Eintracht Frankfurt lifted the trophy, beating Borussia Monchengladbach on away goals, while Stuttgart and Bayern Munich were beaten semi-finalists.

I have noticed that Porto's coach and new "Special One" Andre Villas Boas wears some kind of captain's armband, and sometimes passes it on to some other technical staff member. Can you tell me what it is? Avi from Nepal asked.

I passed this one over to our expert on all things Portuguese, Andy Brassell, who said: "All Portuguese coaches wear the armband; it's usually in club colours (you'll see Villas Boas' is blue and white) and it says 'Treinador' on it - 'coach'. It's just to identify the boss."

Often, 40 points is widely accepted to be a barrier which keeps you safe from relegation in the Premier League but not this season. What is the largest total a relegated team has managed in the Premier League and which team is it? Justin Goh, from Singapore, asked.

There are four answers to this. West Ham went down with 42 points in the 2002-3 season which was remarkable, not least because they took 16 more points than the side immediately behind them in the table, West Bromwich Albion. It is also notable for two other reasons: the players involved (including Paolo di Canio, Frederic Kanoute, Jermain Defoe, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson and David James) and because it is a record in a 38-game league.

However, in a 42-match season (and a 22-team division), Crystal Palace secured 49 points in the Premier League's inaugural campaign, 1992-3, and still went down. Oldham's escape, at Palace's expense, was covered at greater length in Jon Carter's feature on Great Escapes last week . If we go back before the Premier League era, however, Sheffield Wednesday won 43 points in a 38-match campaign in 1989-90 and went down. Meanwhile, in the era of two points for a game, Tottenham took 38 points from 42 games in 1927-8 and were relegated. Were three points awarded for every win then, they would have ended up with 53, which would have sent Liverpool, with 52, down instead.

In the history of the Premier League, have there been any instances that a referee was credited with a goal? Kenninaz asked

Sadly not, no.

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