By Simon Green
How do you measure a team’s greatness? The number of points? The number of goals scored or conceded? Stepping up in the big games?
For some, City’s nightmare loss to their Manchester rivals and their dismal performances against Liverpool in the Champions League showed that they could not deal with the pressure in the big moments. Indeed, it did seem that their players went missing in the crucial moments of these games and they capitulated within a matter of minutes in all three games as a result. Does that mean that they can’t be considered the greatest outfit our league has ever seen?
If you want to find a team that performed more consistently than City this season, look no further than Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2003-2004. Going an entire Premier League season unbeaten was an incredible achievement for Arsene Wenger’s team which the Citizens have not been able to repeat, and, with individuals like Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry, this team certainly had a huge amount of attacking quality.
Despite these individual talents, they certainly did not have the attacking success that City have had this season, scoring 73 times compared to City’s 98 (with four games to go). They weren’t that much better in defence either, conceding 26 goals to City’s 25 this season. However, this Arsenal team had a grit and ability to grind out results, as shown by their 12 draws and 13 wins by one goal-margins that season. City’s losses have tended to come from quick-fire goals, perhaps showing they lack the spirit and fight encapsulated by the likes of Patrick Vieira.
Some may say that greatness is being able to churn out results, with the team Jose Mourinho built at Chelsea in their 2004-2005 title-winning season perhaps the best example of this. Defensively, they only conceded an incredible 15 all season with the likes of John Terry, Petr Cech and Ricardo Carvalho at the back. As a result of their astounding defensive record they gained a record 95 points, although with City sitting on 90 points with 12 more up for grabs, it seems inevitable that this year’s champions will surpass that mark.
Another potential contender is the 1999-2000 Manchester United team, who proved to be the most dominant in the league’s history with a margin of 18 of points over runners up Arsenal, coming off the back of a Premier League and Champions League-winning season the year before.
Are you bored of reading stats and history lessons yet? Well, I’m certainly bored of researching them.
Football, at heart, is not really about possession stats or the number of clean sheets. Yes, they’re important, and this City team have certainly impressed with the array of records they have broken and could break. But what’s more impressive to a football fan: a statistical analysis of a game or seeing a wonderfully dinked ball from David Silva to set Leroy Sane dancing through the opposition defence like he’s playing in the school playground?
So, are City the best team the Premier League has ever seen? Great teams that live long in the memory (Brazil’s 1970 World Cup team and Barcelona’s 2008-2009 team for example) remain so because of how they played, and not based exclusively on their stats or hard-fought 1-0 victories. It’s not just City’s domination of possession that has impressed, but how they have used that possession in such a creative and entertaining way. It’s not just the amount of goals they have scored, but the way they have crafted beautifully intricate passing moves to slot the ball home. At times, they are literally unplayable.
In short, while other teams may have played in a more efficient or mentally resilient way, let’s remember that it is called the beautiful game for a reason. And have any of the other Premier League’s greatest teams played as beautifully as Manchester City have this season? For me, none come close.
Photograph: Brad Tutterow via Flickr