Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas and miscellany

AB de Villiers, charted

GettyImages_464587978Who would be a bowler these days? Specifically, who would be a West Indian bowler playing South Africa?

AB de Villiers has done it again: a monstrous innings scored in record quick time. Having set the fastest 100 in just 31 balls in January, he has now set the fastest 150, in just 64 balls.

Clearly, there is room for improvement in the 150 record: he got out on 149 in just 42 balls in the first of these record-setting knocks.

The chart below shows the run accumulation per ball for De Villiers’ innings, and the previous record holders, Corey Anderson of New Zealand who hit 100 in 36 balls (also against the poor West Indies), and Shane Watson of Australia (vs Bangladesh) who got 150 in 83. The red arrow shows the improvement in each record. With just one more run in his first knock, De Villiers could have set the 150 mark far faster, as the orange arrow shows.  (The chart shows run-scoring no balls, which don’t count in the official ball tally).

fastest ODI 100s

What is also amazing is how fast he accelerates towards the end of the innings.

De Villiers is also the holder of the record for the fastest ODI fifty, in 16 balls – scored in the first part of his record-breaking 100. The fastest 50 record is only counted from the start of a batsman’s innings, not part way through.

However, as a comparison, De Villiers scored his last 50 runs in both these recent matches in just 13 balls. That is simply frightening for the opposition bowlers, and a huge boost at the end of the innings for his team. In the World Cup match just gone, South Africa were on course for around 300-320 runs. Thanks to De Villiers, they racked up 78 in the last three overs alone, scored over 400, and won by over 250 runs.

(Stats from Cricinfo)

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A Qatar winter World Cup is no bad thing

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Isn’t Fifa simply awful? Having awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup in less-than-savoury circumstances, now it has the brass neck to move the event to Winter to avoid the scorching heat! Shame.

A quick read of most opinion pages suggests that this is a terrible idea for a clutch of reasons: Europe’s football leagues are thrown into disarray; outdoor screenings won’t work; it will ruin Christmas; the NFL(!) will compete with US attention; it’s a summer event, dammit.

Let’s quickly dismiss a few of the frothier objections: pubs will do fine; it won’t ruin Christmas; do we seriously think the US can only watch one sport at a time? So it is supposed to be a summer event. But having given Qatar the tournament in such a dodgy way, this is hardly the biggest thing to get worked up about.

But how about those European leagues being messed about? Surely there’s something in that?

Well, there are two options. One is to suspend matches while the World Cup is on. The other is to keep playing.

For some reason, only option 1 seems to be the course of action. In which case, La Liga and the Premier League and others will have to start a few weeks early and finish a few weeks late. Hardly the end of the world, is it? The Guardian has put together how the season might look, and, to me, it doesn’t seem too bad.

But what about option 2: play on? That’s what the leagues do during the African Cup of Nations, after all. It is also what county cricket teams do when England play Tests, T20, and One-day Internationals. It’s what the rugby clubs do when the 6 Nations and Autumn internationals are on.

What would the impact be on the leagues? Well, if we take the 2014 World Cup as any guide, the breakdown of players from each league went like this:

League World Cup players
England 119
Italy 81
Germany 78
Spain 64
France 46
Russia 34
Mexico 26
Turkey 26
Portugal 23
Netherlands 20

At first glance, it’s pretty obvious that the leagues that will be most hampered in 2022 are those of England, Italy, Germany and Spain. However, In terms of the overall players, Germany’s World Cup burden is slightly higher than Italy’s, as the league has 18 teams compared to the 20 in the others. If we use the current squad sizes of all the teams in those four leagues, around 21 per cent of the Premiership’s 550-plus players would be off to the World Cup, over 15 per cent of the Bundesliga’s players, just under 15 per cent of Serie A would go, and 12 per cent of La Liga. It’s hardly an entire league – the Premiership would lose one in five players.

But of course, the burden isn’t spread equally around. In 2014 the Premiership had five clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United) with 10 or more players going to the World Cup. All the other teams had 6 or fewer. In other leagues there was a similar skewing: Bayern Munich had 15 World Cup representatives, Barcelona had 13 and Real Madrid had 12. Juventus and Napoli had 12 players in Brazil 2014.

What would the solution be? If the leagues insisted in playing during the World Cup, their biggest clubs would suffer disproportionately. In the era of vastly unequal resources, that might be a rather positive outcome: in the run up to 2022, the bigger clubs would have to expand their squads with home-grown and non-international players; it might mean they become reluctant to sign a World Cup-bound player. However, this isn’t for the entire season – it’s probably for six or seven matches. It would make the league more uncertain, that’s for sure. Smaller teams such as Southampton and West Ham might well vote for it. In fact, put to an equal vote, the majority of Premiership clubs should be in favour of continuing to play during the World Cup.

However, the big clubs are never going to go along with this. For example, Chelsea, with a first team squad of 24 including 12 World Cup players, would struggle to field a team without calling up a host of reserves.

The bigger issue would be gate receipts and advertising. Shorn of the bigger star names, bar the odd exception (such as Gareth Bale), the big European clubs would face a temporary tail-off of interest. It would be a “downgraded product”. And that would never do. Competing head-on with the World Cup would only have one winner: fans want to see the best players in action.

Given that the Premiership seems utterly focused on squeezing every commercial drop it can, the idea of playing on is a non-starter. Which is a shame, as football in England and Spain could do with a rebalancing of power, however temporary.

The only other scenario in which the European leagues would play on is if they force their players to boycott the World Cup. The ramifications of that would be huge. In fact, it would be the most divisive moment in football history, and possibly spell the end of international football in its current form.

Somehow, I don’t think Fifa will let that happen.

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How far can cricket’s one-day record go?

The cricket World Cup usually has a pretty dull round of opening matches, but Chris Gayle has done his bit to keep things interesting. His (World Cup record) knock of 215 has been rightly praised and analysed – I won’t go into detail here.

However, it is not the highest One-Day International score ever. And recent cricket records show that 200-plus scores could soon be more common.

Below are the progressive records for the highest Test innings, and highest One-day score.

If we look at the ODI highest-innings record, it charts an interesting course. Unlike the equivalent Test record, which quickly got to over 300 in the 193rd Test in 1930, and then nudged up to 400 over the next 1,500 matches, the ODI record shows the new, go-for-broke batting style of the last few years.

The charts below show the record not by years, but by international matches played. This is a better gauge than the date when the innings was made, as the frequency of cricket matches has accelerated over the years. (Just to illustrate: there were 266 tests played in the 1980s, compared to 420 in the last 10 years. Equally, there were 516 ODIs in the 1980s, compared to 1,385 played in the last 10 years. I have not included the T20 record as it is still early days in that format, internationally at least.)

test indiv record

ODI indiv record

The ODI record starts up towards 200 runs over the first 300 matches or so, and then tails off. Viv Richards’ record of 189 stood from 1984 to 1997, for just under 950 ODIs. Then Saeed Anwar’s record of 194 was the top score from 1997 to 2009, covering over 1,600 ODIs.

But in the last 500 ODIs or so, the record has been pushed over 200 and quickly towards 300.

This is a reflection of new rules – the power plays which restrict fielders on the boundary, as well as a new breed of batsmen who play far more T20 cricket and have pushed the style of the one day format. Players such as Chris Gayle, in fact.

This seems counter-intuitive. The ODI match is restricted to 300 deliveries, whereas the only limit to a test innings is time. However, the Test record has stalled – partly as teams are now keener to push for victories rather than indulge a player who might rack up a huge score, which can often lead to a draw.

So how far can the ODI record go?

Theoretically, a player who hit every ball for 6, except the last ball of the over which is hit for 3 (so he can retain the strike next over) could score 1,653. However, a million ODIs could be played without that happening. More realistically, a player could face around 200 of the deliveries bowled – the current record of 264 by India’s Rohit Sharma was scored in 173 deliveries; the 1975 record of 171 by New Zealander Glenn Turner took 201 balls. If we took Sharma’s strike rate of 1.53 and applied it to 200 balls, that would be a score of 306.

However, a look at the ODI scores of 150-plus shows that higher strike rates are possible. Shane Watson of Australia hit 185 in just 96 balls in 2011. If we applied his strike rate of 1.92 runs per ball to an innings of 200 deliveries, that would result in a score of 380 or so. If we take into account the strike rate of the quickest ODI century – the recent record of just 31 balls was set by South Africa’s AB de Villiers hitting at over 3 runs per ball –  could 400 be feasible?

For that to happen, a lot of things would need to go right: short boundaries; a player of supreme power in luck and in form; poor bowling; and two in three deliveries to that one player. That’s a lot to ask, but the two individual elements (strike rate, number of deliveries) have both been achieved before, so this is not an impossible scenario.

We might even end up with a seemingly unthinkable situation: the ODI innings record higher than the Test mark. Still, a long way to go, as the chart below shows.

test and odi record

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England and the ODI fallacy

England lose to Sri Lanka, 2011 World CupEngland don’t play enough one-day cricket to challenge for the World Cup. True?

It was true. It’s not any more, yet it’s a myth that’s still doing the rounds. A recent version comes from retired Sri Lankan spin bowling legend Muttiah Muralitharan. In an interview with the Telegraph, he says:

they [England] don’t play enough one-day internationals abroad like other countries. We play 30-35 one-day matches in a year but England play about 14 or 15, so that is not enough. They play more Tests and that is why they are good in Tests, but they think domestic matches are enough to experience one-day cricket. It is not.

Murali is spot on, if you look at 2012. That year, England played 15 one-day internationals (ODIs) compared to Sri Lanka’s 33.

But that year is something of a blip in the last decade or so. In 2007, England (34) played more ODIs than Sri Lanka (29). It was the same in 2011 – England played 30, Sri Lanka 28. In other years, it’s been Sri Lanka that’s played more, but not by much.

Of course, it was very much the case that England played way too few ODIs to be competitive. In cricket, just as any other sport, results are key. But you also need experience, and simply being less exposed to the 50-over version of international cricket is going to hamper you when it comes to performing at the World Cup.

From 1992 to 2002, England played the fewest ODIs of any of the major cricket sides (I’m not counting Bangladesh or Zimbabwe in this analysis).

Think about this from a player’s point of view. If you had started in the England team in 1992 (and didn’t get dropped or injured), it would have taken you until somewhere in 2004 to get 200 ODI matches under your belt. If you had played for India, your 200th cap would have been in 1999, a full 5 years earlier. India play the most ODIs, so let’s compare to other teams. The next slowest to 200 caps would have been from New Zealand and the West Indies, with their equivalent players getting their 200th cap in 2001, a good 3 years earlier than our English player.

But since 2003, that’s all changed. In the 12 years since 2003, England have played far more one-day cricket, more than South Africa, New Zealand, and the West Indies, and not far behind the others. In that time, an ever-present player would have picked up 273 caps; an Indian player could have accumulated 350 caps. The gap has narrowed.

The four year rolling chart (below, click for full size version) of ODIs played says it all. England scrape along the bottom until 2003, but have picked up since and play a comparable number of ODIs to the other major teams. I have used the rolling four-year chart as the year-by-year version has too many ups and downs to illustrate the trend of matches played. Also, four years is a good time period, as it fits with the World Cup cycle.

ODIs per country, 4-year rolling (annotated)

Of course, the teams that play the most don’t always win the World Cup: Australia have shown that. But in the case of Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, as well as the 2007 Australians, their World Cup wins came after a four-year cycle of being one of the top two teams in terms of matches played. Experience isn’t everything, but it clearly helps.

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3 reasons why the Premier League deal should be no surprise

It looks huge – a $5.1 deal, 70 per cent up on the previous one. The English Premier League certainly knows how to sell itself.

But amid all the mutterings of how the money won’t filter down to the grass roots and smaller clubs, or Alan Sugar’s lovely image of “prune juice”, here are three reasons why we shouldn’t be surprised.

1) Sky

Sky paid £4.2bn for their match packages. Sounds a lot, until you realise that in 2014, Sky made £7.6bn in revenue, and a profit before tax of £1.1bn. Also, this is a three-year deal, so for Sky it works out as £1.4bn per year. In short – the company can clearly afford it. Assuming that the advertisers are still keen, and the public keep subscribing, it could be a great deal.

Of course, the extra money won’t be squandered, from Sky’s point of view. Every big money transfer to the Premier League adds to the allure, so they aren’t just spending money on a fixed asset – they are spending on future improvements too. If English clubs can outspend Spanish rivals, it’s basically free marketing for Sky.

2) BT

BT have become a serious football broadcast player. They snapped up the Champion’s League TV rights, and have again bid up for the Premier League. Increased competition over a fixed supply means higher prices, as any economist will tell you.

3) Lessons of the NFL

It has a bigger domestic audience, obviously, but the NFL has done a very good job of squeezing the broadcasters for cash, with an annualised $5bn-plus deal with several broadcasters over eight years. While this is about double what the British broadcasters are paying (after converting dollars into sterling), there is a remarkable similarity in the increase from the previous deal.

The NFL secured a total $3.1bn TV rights deal for the 2006-13 seasons. That then went up to over $5bn for 2014-21. The Premier League had a £3bn deal for 2013-16, and now £5.1bn for 2016-19. It’s a highly similar increase: 62-plus per cent for the NFL, 70 per cent for the Premier League.

Is it such a surprise that sports broadcasters (albeit in different countries for different sports) have upped their valuation of TV rights by the same amount at a similar time?

It would be nice to see more money going to places other than players’ salaries and agents. But in a commercial world, the Premier League deal is less surprising than the wide-eyed coverage from the media who run every news snippet about football that they possibly can.

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ODIs: batsman’s paradise

As the cricket World Cup kicks off, this excellent statistical-based tour of the history of One Day Internationals by Andy Bull of the Guardian is really worth a read.

Best part:

These days the cut-off for a century quick enough to rate a mention in the ODI record books is 79 balls. Any slower than that, and you can’t make Cricinfo’s list, else it’d get so long that they’d have to stretch it to a second page. Wadsworth’s innings doesn’t even come close. As it is there are 91 innings on the list, running chronologically from Zaheer Abbas’ hundred off 76 against Sri Lanka in Lahore, 29 March 1982 through to Ross Taylor’s hundred off 70 against Pakistan at Napier just the other week. Of those 91, 44 have been scored in the last eight years, since the first World T20 in South Africa in September 2007. There have been 946 ODI matches in that time, out of 3,598 overall. So, to put it roughly, the last quarter of ODI fixtures have provided half of all the fastest centuries.

and then later

Of course bowling and fielding have evolved through T20 too. But even with the advances made there, the batsmen are running away with the game. It was 31 years before the average ODI run-rate for a calendar year first crept up above five. First happened in 2005. The median average for the last 18 years (since they first started playing more than 100 ODI games a year) is 4.88. Since the new fielding regulations came in, it has gone from 5.05 to 5.11, to 5.29, to, so far this year, 5.38. It’s leapt up by a full third of a run per over in under three years. Also, in 2013 more hundreds were scored than in any previous year of ODI cricket, the number of balls per six dropped to a record low, and the collective strike rate rose to a record high, crossing 80 for the first time. Then, in 2014, every single one of those records was broken all over again. All this despite the fact that neither year came close to breaking the records for the number of matches played, or balls faced.

Great stuff. But I think it needs a chart, for the run-rate. Here IS that chart (data from Cricinfo):

ODI runs per over

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The 6 Nations is getting less exciting – according to the scores

A slightly worrisome chart on the BBC this week in the run up to the opening 6 Nations match between England and Wales. It showed the average points difference for each match since 2000, with a big uptick at the end. Higher points difference means one-sided matches, surely? And that isn’t good for nail-biting matches, and crowd entertainment.

Here’s that BBC chart:

But does that tell the whole story? Perhaps not.

Points difference is only one aspect of a game. An open game which ends 40-30 is clearly more exiting than one that ended 15-5. The same ten-point difference doesn’t convey the excitement in the first game.

Clearly total points is also important. But total points alone clearly doesn’t tell the whole story either. 57-3 is hardly as exciting than 33-27.

So ideally, we want high-scoring games with a small points difference. If we take the average total points per game and subtract the points difference, that gives us some idea of excitement, at least from the scoreline. It means a 23-20 game is more exciting than 6-3, as it would score 40 (23+20-3) points compared to 6 (6+3-3).

6Nations-TP-DP

So what does the chart show? The total points scored minus the difference in points (TP-DP) is dropping over the years, and is now at just 22.7 from being over 30 in the first years of the 6 Nations. There was an initial decline, and then with breakdown rule changes, excitement increases to 2007; but then the decline starts again. We want the line on the chart to be trending up, not down.

That’s not good. But what about the Italy effect? Italy, when they were introduced to the 6 Nations, took a few big losses as the team became used to the standard of competition. They lost 80-23 to England in 2001. The 12 times that a team has lost by 40 points or more in the 6 Nations, Italy have been the loser eight times, and most of those were pre-2006.

So let’s take Italy out of the equation. Of the old 5 Nations teams, has it got more or less exciting?

5Nations-TP-DP

It’s the same pattern, only more pronounced. There is a sharp decline to 2003; an increase to 2007; and then a drop from 2010.

The worrying thing is that we are at a low: it’s 21.4, when several years had TP-DP scores of over 30.

Time for further rule changes? Who knows? Scores only tell you so much: a low-scoring match with a sudden try at the end can still be a gripping game. But then, scores on average will tell us something. If they are anything to go by, the 6 Nations is getting one-sided, and, I hate to say it, a bit dull.

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4 things Google Trends tells us about the Super Bowl and the NFL

American Football’s imminent death has been greatly exaggerated – for now, at least. Super Bowl XLIX was the most-watched event in US TV history; and if Google Trends are anything to go by, it was a wildly popular event online too.

Here are a few things that leap out of the data:

1) Controversy sells

Deflategate – the inevitable name for the scandal over the low-pressure balls used in the Patriots’ play-off game – clearly wasn’t a turn off. Domestic abuse scandals from earlier in the season might have been, but for whatever reason, that hasn’t hampered viewing figures.

2) This is a step change in interest

Look at the Google trends data from 2004 to 2014 for the search term “Super Bowl”, worldwide, pre 2015:

google_trends_super_bowl_ww_pre2015

As you would expect, interest – as measured by Google’s collection of Super Bowl related searches – spikes around the time of the big game each year, but going from peak to peak, interest was relatively flat. Searches from 2014 (scoring 100) were a bit higher than 2013 (86), which were down from 2012 and 2011 (92).

Now look at the worldwide chart including the Super Bowl just gone:

google_trends_super_bowl_ww

That’s quite some spike. Unless the data is going to be revised in the next few days, it looks like this year’s Super Bowl was a huge online event.

3) If the NFL is going to set up an overseas team, London shouldn’t be a shoo-in

London got three NFL games this year, and talk of a London NFL franchise has been kicking around for a while. But the NFL does have other options: Canada, Mexico and Germany have all been mentioned at one time or other.

So let’s compare the interest (as measured by Super Bowl searches) in those four locations over the past five years, which is roughly when serious talk of overseas teams started. We can’t drill down just to London, so the UK will have to do as a comparison. (Aside: when you isolate the data to England, the town that comes out top is Altrincham, followed by London. I have no idea why.)

google_trends_super_bowl_4_countries

There’s a big recent spike, but for the recent Super Bowl, the countries score like this: Canada, 100; Mexico, 74; Germany, 38; UK, 19. Where would you go?

4) Brits don’t know if it’s one word or two

Superbowl or Super Bowl? Re-run the chart above with the incorrect one-word spelling, and the UK (with 26) leapfrogs over Germany and Mexico (both on 20). Canada is still top, but overall, Canadians do know it’s two words by a score of 100 to 70. Germans do even better, scoring 100 to 35.

The Brits, however, get it wrong more than they get it right: Google Trends shows “Superbowl” scores 100 in the UK compared to “Super Bowl” with 90. Clearly there’s still a lot of marketing work to do in the UK.

UPDATE: I have amended the Google Trends numbers for the 4 country comparison with the latest data.

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Nadal, Berdych and the upper limit of winning streaks

462326540Tomas Berdych must be a relieved man. Having lost 17 times in a row to Rafael Nadal, he has finally snapped the streak at the Australian Open.

Had he lost, it would have been a new record. Tennis rivalries do often produce one-sided periods, but 17 wins for one player in a row is the upper limit. It’s the number of consecutive wins that Bjorn Borg had over Vitas Gerulaitis; that Ivan Lendl had over Tim Mayotte; and Lendl had over, surprisingly, Jimmy Connors.

Weirdly, the upper teens seems to be the limit in other sports streaks too: the Australian cricket team went on a 16-test winning streak in 1999 to 2001. Both New Zealand (twice) and South Africa hold the record of 17 straight test wins in rugby. And Spain’s football team had a 15-game winning run.

Is there a mathematical reason for 15 to 18 being the upper limit of streaks? If it were a coin toss, then probably yes. But sport isn’t a coin toss. The win streaks get harder as teams put pressure on themselves to perform, and opponents look to topple the team of the moment. Of course, it’s easy to give a bad performance, and teams get injuries, or retirements.

The tennis streaks mentioned above have ended at 17 as one of the players retired. The interesting thing about Berdych’s victory is that it is the first reversal. Nadal may have been under par, but the pressure would have been on Berdych to win, rather than in team sports where the pressure piles onto the streak holder.

So which is the next longest active head-to-head winning (or losing) streak? I can’t find a definitive list, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Richard Gasquet against, you guessed it, Nadal. The scoreline is 0-13 in Nadal’s favour.

That quote

As Gerulaitis said after he beat Connors in 1980: “nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times”. Except the ATP record shows that his losing streak against Connors was 12, and was 16 against Borg. (There is a walkover for Gerulaitis in 1978, which you might think counts as a win, but the ATP seems to not count them in the head to heads.) I have no idea where the missing 17th match is.

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When it comes to FA Cup upsets, size is subjective

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Bradford: biggest shock EVER?

What’s the biggest FA Cup shock defeat ever? For Robbie Fowler, it’s the Chelsea 4-2 loss to Bradford from yesterday (Jan 24). And in terms of drama, it’s clearly a great story. After all, Chelsea were 2-0 up and at home.

But for league placings, it’s not even close. With Chelsea top of the premiership, and Bradford 7th in League 1 (the third tier, despite its name), there are 39 teams between them.

Compare that to the 84 teams between Blackburn and Oxford in 1964, which according to Steve Porter, author of The Giant Killers website is the greatest FA Cup upset ever. Blackburn were 2nd at the time in the top division; Oxford were 18th in league 4.

Porter, who writes under the name Captain Beecher, ranks the upsets in terms of league placings, combined with a player quality metric using internationals and previous cup winners. Porter doesn’t spell out his methodology, but it’s clearly better than just using collective memory and non-scientific lists published in newspapers.

Porter sums up the problem perfectly:

On BBC’s Match of the Day programme, when asking the public if Bradford’s victory over Chelsea was the greatest cupset ever, they showed twelve of what they considered the greatest giant killings of all time. Every game had one thing in common. The BBC TV cameras were there. Not one game which was not covered by the BBC was considered. And so shapes our opinion. If you’re told something was a huge giant killing enough times {7th placed top flight Wimbledon beating Champions, Liverpool 1-0 in 1988. Surprise? yes but giant killing? Really? 7th vs 1st in the Premier League?} You start to accept that it’s true. ITV are a little more impartial, perhaps because they don’t have as much cup footage to be able to make lists exclusively thiers. The problem when compiling such lists is that every time a particular tie is overlooked, it’s chances of being placed in the next TV countdown, or magazine article diminishes.

And where does Porter’s system put Chelsea-Bradford? It’s 15th on his all-time list. Not bad, but it is interesting that it is lower down than non-league Luton’s 1-0 victory over the Premiership’s Norwich only 2 seasons ago, which is in 7th place. That didn’t even make the BBC’s list in the studio analysis. Memories are short, eh?

Being subjective, turning round a 2-goal deficit to 4-2 at Stamford Bridge is an extraordinary result. But perhaps the BBC could, with all its resources, dig up a few proper stats like Porter’s.

See also:
Interactive football league tables

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