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Jun 21, 2011

Bad champions and unbeatable teams

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.

Is Manchester United's league win with 80 points the lowest total? If not, which team got the lowest? Jisheng Long asked

It is the lowest for a decade since United themselves ended with 80 in 2001, but it isn't a record. Given their success, it is something of a surprise to discover that the Treble winners of 1999 only took 79 points. That, however, was still four more than the team of 1997 managed: their total of 75 is the lowest for a winner in Premier League era. Go back before then, however, and while Liverpool took 80 points in 1984 - with another Treble-winning team - it was from 42 games, working out at a lower point-per-game ratio.

In the era of two points for a win, Chelsea (in 1955), Arsenal (1938) and Sheffield Wednesday (1929) all lifted the title with 52 points but, because Chelsea won 20 games, one fewer than the other, they would have the lowest total (72) under the current rules. In a 38-game campaign - I'm ignoring shorter seasons - the lowest table-topping tally was Everton's 46 in 1914-15: under three points for a win, that would be 65. Earning only 1.70 points per game, they are statistically the worst champions in English league history.

Besides Arsenal Porto, and AC Milan, which other teams in Europe that have been unbeaten in the league for the whole season? Hafiz from Malaysia asked

The Arsenal team Hafiz refers to were the Invincibles, the 2003-04 champions in England. Porto, under Andre Villas-Boas, have completed the most recent Portuguese season without suffering a single league setback, while the AC Milan immortals were the team of 1991-92, managed by Fabio Capello, who did not lose in what was arguably the world's strongest league, winning the division by eight points and scoring 16 more goals than anyone else. Marco van Basten, at his brilliant best, contributed 25 himself.

But they have company and, remarkably, it consists of another English, Portuguese and Italian team. The original Invincibles excelled in the first ever season of league football in England: Preston North End in 1888-89 were the inaugural winners of Division 1. Porto, meanwhile, join Benfica's class of 1972-73 among unbeaten Portuguese sides - Eusebio scored a barely credible 40 goals in 28 league games that season.

Yet perhaps the most extraordinary of all is the record of Perugia in 1978-79. It is surprising enough that a comparatively small club did not lose a single Serie A game and a shock that an unbeaten side didn't even win their division. As it was, the Scudetto went to AC Milan while Perugia, who only won 11 and drew 19 of their 30 league games, were runners up.

Which goalkeeper holds the record for most saves over the entirety of their career? Franklin Joseph asked

Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing as such statistics recording saves are a comparatively modern addition to the game. We can't therefore know if, say, Lev Yashin made more saves than Gordon Banks. One educated guess would be Peter Shilton, simply because he played more games than anyone else. However, that many of them were in the colours of good teams (Nottingham Forest and England, in particular) meant he might not have been the busiest keeper in many of those games. By way of illustration, the 'keeper with most saves in the Premier League this season was Ben Foster for relegated Birmingham with 169, and Blackpool's Matt Gilks was the leader until he was injured in November. However, of those who faced more than 100 shots, Manchester City's Joe Hart, saving 76.4%, was statistically the best.

I would like to know, what has been the greatest difference in points where a club has won a Champions League but has not gone on to win the league? For example, when Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005, they finished with 58 points while Chelsea won the league with 95 Aditya Bhatia from Mumbai, India, asked

You have answered your own question: the 37-point gap between Liverpool and Chelsea is the greatest gulf between the European champions and the winners of their domestic league. Liverpool were involved in the previous record, too: they won the old Division 1 in 1982 with 87 points, 30 more than the Aston Villa side who beat Bayern Munich 1-0 to win the European Cup. While Liverpool's 58 points earned them fifth place, however, Villa's 57 only took them to 11th place which I believe is the lowest domestic finish of European Cup/Champions League winners.

I have a question regarding La Liga. A lot of La Liga sides have their "B" teams playing in the Segunda or Segunda B divisions. For example, Real Madrid have a second team Real Madrid B playing in the Segunda B division, Villarreal have a Villarreal B, Barcelona have a Barcelona B, so do Athletic Bilbao and some other teams. Now I know that there is a rule which states that the senior and the junior teams of the same club cannot play in the same division at the same time, so that even if Villarreal B win the Segunda Division, they won't be promoted to the Primera because Villarreal are already up there. But what happens if, say, Villarreal get relegated from La Liga and at the same time Villarreal B win the Segunda? Will Villarreal B then be allowed promotion to the Primera Division? And, what if Villarreal get relegated from La Liga and Villarreal B survive relegation from the Segunda, will Villarreal B then be automatically relegated to the Segunda B division regardless of their position? Fariz Akbar from Lahore, Pakistan, asked

As you realise, a club can't have both their A and B teams in the same division. I passed it on to Eduardo Alvarez for a more detailed explanation. He wrote: "According to the LFP and the Spanish FA, the main principle is that two A & B teams can't play in the same category, nor can the B team play above the A team. Two situations: a) Villarreal B finishes in a promotion position in the Segunda division: they won't be promoted, as Villarreal (A) are already in the Primera.

"Thus, the following team on the Segunda Division table will be promoted to the Primera. This happened a long way back with Real Madrid and Castilla (their B team), back in the distant, good old times when RM had a fantastic youth team structure; b) Villarreal (A) are relegated to the Segunda. Villarreal B will be also relegated to the lower category (named Segunda Division B), as they can't play in the same category as their 'father' side. In the unlikely case that the B side were in a promotion position, they would also be relegated as they can't play in a category above the A team."

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