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Jun 8, 2011

Late goals and dramatic declines

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.

How many goals do Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool score in different segments of games? I would have thought Man Utd would score most of their goals in the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes of a game, as they always seem to come out and try to get an early goal, and they have that annoying habit of getting late goals. I don't understand why teams don't ensure they are switched on from the first whistle when they play Man Utd - should they be more wary? Michael Powell from Australia asked.

Firstly, I think it's a bit more complicated than simply telling teams to switch on at the start and end of games against Manchester United. I can, however, give you a breakdown of how each of the top six teams fared in six segments of 15 minutes of this last season's league games. They are, as follows:

It reinforces United's reputation for scoring late goals, though Chelsea are as prolific at the end of games, but suggests opponents should be especially wary of Manchester City and Arsenal at the start, although eight of United's early goals actually came in the first five minutes of matches. It is also notable just how few goals City score at the end of games, while Tottenham are slow starters to both halves.

In terms of players to watch out for at the end of games, Javier Hernandez is United's late specialist with five goals in the final sixth of a game, plus three others in the 74th and 75th minutes. However, the most lethal man at the end of a match is Robin van Persie, who struck seven times in the final 15 minutes of matches. Meanwhile, Carlos Tevez has the most marked tendency to come out of the blocks flying with six goals in the first 15 minutes of Premier League matches in 2010-11.

With the exploits of Blackpool this year and Burnley last year, what's the highest-placed team during a season to end up being relegated? Chris asked.

In one respect, it is Blackpool, who topped the Premier League for two hours on its opening day, after the final whistle of their 4-0 win over Wigan and before Chelsea's 6-0 victory against West Brom ended. Blackpool were eighth on New Year's Day, which tends to provide a more accurate guide. However, the Norwich team of 1994-95 fell still further: they were seventh when 1995 began, a Premier League record. Indeed, Norwich appear particularly prone to end-of-season collapses. A decade earlier, they were 11th - and thus in the top half of a 22-team league - on March 15 and were still demoted (by the way, that was the season when, like Birmingham this year, they did a double of League Cup victory and relegation).

As ever, however, it depends on where you draw the line: the Manchester City side relegated in 1982-3, for instance, were second after 13 games in a remarkable season: they took 23 points from their first 13 games and only 24 from the remaining 29. City provide another example: in 1937-8, they were 16th (in a 22-team division) after 41 games, and still went down from a division that only relegated two teams.

Another startling fall came in 1927-8 when Tottenham were in sixth place on March 28, having played 35 games, and still went down, dropping a further 15 places in the last few weeks of the campaign. One reason, however, was that virtually all of their rivals had games in hand; indeed, after Spurs played their final match, they were still 17th. In their remaining games, however, Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United and Manchester United all overhauled Tottenham. As you may gather, the final round of fixtures weren't all played on the same day then, unlike now.

Outside English football, the most dramatic decline I am aware of was suffered by the Fiorentina side of 1992-3, who occupied second place after almost half of the season had been completed but went down to Serie B, although sides relegated for financial or rule-breaking reasons (mentioned below) have led or won the league and gone down.

After seeing 1999-00 La Liga champions Deportivo la Coruna relegated last week, it got me wondering - what's the record for shortest amount of time it's taken for a team to be relegated after winning a top-flight league championship? Christopher Frakes from Alexandria, Virginia, USA asked.

This may seem like picking on Manchester City, but the 1938 side mentioned above managed to go from triumph to disaster rather quicker than Depor. They were champions in 1937 and relegated 12 months later. Technically, AC Milan, Juventus and Marseille have all been demoted either the year they won the title or 12 months after, but all were for non-footballing reasons, so City and Nuremberg (champions in 1968, relegated in 1969) are alone among clubs from the major European leagues.

There are, however, other instances: Herfolge in Denmark, who went down in 2001, may be the most prominent recent example, while it has happened four times in Sweden. A full list can be found here.

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