So who is the greatest team of the Premier League era? It seems to be the question that everyone has an opinion on and generally boils down to Arsenal’s Invincibles, United’s treble-winning team or this current Man City side. I’m not even sure why this is even a debate, as together with the United team of ’08, the ’99 treble winners are streets ahead and I will tell you why.
One season wonders
I may be called biased on this subject and I totally understand that view, but let’s look at this more logically. Firstly, I do not want to take anything away from the invincible Arsenal side or this current City team as both in their own right were or are a fantastic outfit. To go a season unbeaten, something City were heavily tipped to emulate this season, is one hell of an achievement. Probably one that will never be matched with the ever-growing competitiveness of the Premier League. However, they followed that season up with a second place and losing out to Chelsea side that racked up more points than the Invincibles did the season prior. In fact, Arsenal finished that season losing five times but with only seven points less than the Invincible season. I ask the question, which was a bigger achievement, Chelsea’s 95 points losing once or Arsenal’s 90 points but not losing at all? The unbeaten record was brilliant, but didn’t win them anything more than just the Premier League title, the same as what Leicester City won 2 seasons ago.
The same applies to this City side. Barring one heck of a comeback against Liverpool, there will be no European title to add to the silverware for City this season and Arsenal failed to win the Champions League during their unbeaten season. Again, credit where it is due, Pep has them playing some brilliant football this season and quite rightly will win the Premier League at a canter, they have been streets above anyone else and certainly the most consistent side along the way. The defeat to United on Saturday may have taken a little edge off of the success but not much and truth be told, they could and should have been out of sight at half time. However, if you go back 2 months, the talk of a quadruple was still being talked of, then it was the treble and now it seems they will be settling for 2 trophies. I never expected them to win the quadruple, mainly because I felt that they would win the Champions League and this may get in the way of a potential run in the FA cup, obviously it has not quite panned out that way. Pep needs to take this crop of players onto the next step and this starts now.
From good to great
Pep will no doubt look to strengthen his squad even further in the summer, but as will United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs behind them and this is where the good sides become great. The biggest challenge to Guardiola now is having his current men prepared and motivated to do it all again next season, bring in the right additions to not ruin the current squad and dominate the English game for the next two or three seasons, something which City have failed to do following their previous title successes under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini. In fact, their defence in both seasons was pretty pathetic, not really threatening to challenge. Only two clubs have managed to win back to back trophies with no team managing this feat since United in 2008/09.
This is what sets apart the United sides to the Arsenal and City sides, they were able to go on and dominate the domestic scene season after season, winning a hat-trick of titles on both occasions. They also managed to complete this period of success by adding the Champions League to the trophy haul. Sir Alex Ferguson will always go down as the greatest manager in English history, as against all the different challenges he faced, he was always able to get his side motivated to go on and dominate, never settling for one league success. He may not have one the number of European trophies as he would have liked, but domestically he knew how to get the job done, time after time. In order for Pep to move this team into the ‘great team’ bracket, he will need to back up this season’s league success and add a Champions League trophy to the Etihad trophy cabinet, until then there will never be any way they can be compared to the United teams of the past.
There are obvious counterarguments, mainly that the Premier League is far more competitive now, but this is an argument that can never really be proven. The amount of money has definitely increased and even the lower teams spend millions each transfer window, but the big boys dominate when it comes to the big transfers and are clearly streets ahead of those outside the top six. It is almost a mini-league each season, with the top six battling it out for the trophy and top four, then the rest battling to stay in the division. In the past, United have had to deal with the great Arsenal sides and then the money bags of Chelsea, yet even then they were able to dominate season after season. Only one side can win the title each season, so it becomes irrelevant how good the rest of the league is, as everyone plays the same teams.
If anyone wants to have a debate about who is the greatest side ever to grace the Premier League, then the debate can only be between the United treble-winning side and the brilliant era of Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez. From what I have seen this season, I have no doubt this City side could quite easily go on to dominate for years, but until they do, they cannot ever be in danger of winning this debate.
However, the last few weeks have suggested there is a little chink in their armour, giving everyone else a look at how they can be beaten. The fear factor of this season seems to have been shattered somewhat and in the case of Liverpool and United, they know they can beat them now, it is a matter of both becoming more consistent for the other 36 games of the season. City are a good side, the Invincibles were a good side, but United of ’99 and ’08 were a brilliant side and more importantly, they were regularly successful. End of debate.