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Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Barca's possession and ever-presents

Norman Hubbard

Norman Hubbard is ESPNsoccernet's resident anorak. If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to and he'll try to answer as many as possible. When watching Barcelona, naturally I'm amazed by their ability to keep possession. I was wondering when the last time they didn't have over 50% possession was? Kenji in Tokyo asked Barcelona generate plenty of remarkable statistics and here is another: in Pep Guardiola's three-year reign at the Nou Camp, no other team has had possession for the majority of the game. To find an opponent with the ball for the lion's share of the match, we have to go back to the final game of Frank Rijkaard's reign, when Real Madrid beat Barca 4-1 in May 2008 and were in possession 55% of the time. The closest to emulate them since then were Getafe who, in December 2010, had the ball for 50% of the match, according to ESPNsoccernet statistics. The best last season, by the way, and a side who consistently keep the ball well against Barca, were Valencia, who were in possession for 44% of a game (anything over 40% against Barcelona is rare, and Valencia regularly manage that).

I understand that Barcelona, along with Real Madrid and Bilbao, have never been relegated from the Primera Division of Spain and the same can be said of Estudiantes and Boca Juniors in Argentina (and River Plate until this year). Are there any other major leagues with teams who never have been relegated? Keaton Karlinsey asked There are. Inter are ever-presents in Serie A and Juventus would be but for the Calciopoli scandal of 2006; they were demoted then, but have never been relegated on basis of results. Hamburg are the only club to have competed in every season of the Bundesliga. In addition, Bayern Munich have never been relegated from it, but weren't among its inaugural members. The lone French club never to have missed a Ligue 1 season is a curiosity because Montpellier, rather than being one of the giants, are still awaiting their first title. Elsewhere, there are three ever-presents in the top division of the Dutch league - unsurprisingly Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord - and a similar situation in Portugal, where the dominant trio of Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Porto are the ever-presents. In Scotland, Aberdeen are a case of a team who have never been relegated, though they weren't founder members of the old Division One. Rangers and Celtic were, and they are alone in competing in every top-flight season. In England, meanwhile, there are seven ever-presents in the Premier League era - Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham - but all have been relegated from the old Division One. The only club who have played in the top flight, but never been relegated from it, is Wigan Athletic, but their comparatively brief existence at the top means England's is alone among the major European leagues.

If we consider the four top European leagues, the defining rivalries in each (keeping in mind the big obvious names), those would be Man United and Liverpool, AC and Inter, Barca and Real Madrid and (maybe) Borussia Dortmund versus Schalke. Are there any players who have played for all four teams in any two of the mentioned pairs? As an example, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played for three out of four from two pairs ie, AC and Inter and Barca. If he now plays for Real Madrid he would have completed the criteria. Sandeep from Mumbai, India asked There are plenty of players with three from a possible four - including Clarence Seedorf (AC, Inter, Real Madrid), Edgar Davids (AC, Inter, Barcelona), Luis Figo (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter), Paul Ince (Manchester United, Liverpool, Inter), Samuel Eto'o (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter), Christian Panucci (AC, Inter, Real Madrid) and Michael Owen (Liverpool, Real Madrid, Manchester United). However, there's only one man I'm aware of to meet your criteria of two pairs: Ronaldo. The great Brazilian goalscorer played for Barcelona, Real Madrid and also AC Milan and Inter Milan over a 12-year period between 1996 and 2008.

Is there any other family other than that of Javier Hernandez, aka Chicharito, who had three generations playing in the World Cup? Quan-Wei Ng from Malaysia asked For those who don't know, Javier Hernandez senior was in the Mexico squad for the 1986 World Cup, albeit without actually playing a minute, while his father-in-law, and Chicharito's grandfather, Tomas Balcazar, was a scorer for them in the 1954 tournament, a feat his grandson emulated 56 years later. There is another family where three generations were represented in the World Cup, though in different ways, and there is another Manchester United connection. Diego Forlan, the player of the tournament in 2010, is the son of Pablo Forlan, who appeared in 1966 and 1974. His maternal grandfather, Juan Carlos Corazo, was a Uruguay international who, though he never played in the World Cup, did coach his country in the 1962 tournament. All three generations have won the Copa America as players.

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