Where does Manchester City rank among great Premier League teams?
Manchester City is on course to win the Premier League earlier than any other side. Bookmakers predict Pep Guardiola's side will win the league on April 7. Bitter rival Manchester United commute to the Etihad that Saturday. City now hold a 16-point gap over United, the largest margin between any top two after 27 matches in Premier League history.
The Citizens have 72 points. United have 56. Eighteen points earned by the Sky Blues and/or dropped by the Red Devils will sew up the title. Pep's squad went on an 18-match winning run earlier in the season. It has scored the most goals, suffered the fewest defeats and possesses the league's best playmaker, Kevin De Bruyne. It's not unreasonable to expect the squad to claim six wins from their remaining eleven contests.
Having also taken the first step toward Champions League glory with a 4-0 victory over Basel in Switzerland, some pundits have gone so far as to christen City the greatest team to have played in the Premier League before the side has completed any challenge set before it this campaign. Yes, the side is on course for a quadruple as well as Premier League records for points and goals in a single campaign. Again, on course is not achieving. We'll have to wait to see how high this squad can set the bar.
In the meantime, here are three sides City will need to surpass to earn the GOAT's horns.
Manchester United 1998-99 treble-winning team
United remains the only English club to have realised an FA Cup, Premier and Champions League treble. Sir Alex Ferguson's team was stacked from back to front. Peter Schmeichel was in goal. Jaap Stam marshaled the defence. The midfield boasted an amazing blend of ferocity, skill, and speed with Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and David Beckham. That quartet may remain the best England has produced, including the current City group. Meanwhile, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were a formidable strike partnership, supplemented by Teddy Sheringham and Ole-Gunnar Solksjaer.
United won the treble. City will have to at least match them to remain in the debate.
2003-04 Arsenal Invincibles
Played 38. Won 26. Drew 12. Lost 0. The only team in Premier League history to go the entire season undefeated, although Preston North End also did the deed in the wee morning hours of the old First Division, Arsene Wenger's side deserves to be considered the best in the Premier League era. The undefeated Gunners had power, pace, guile, creativity, and artistry all in equal measure.
However, their greatest asset was the mental strength that ensured they never tasted defeat. The first eleven included Jens Lehmann, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Lauren, Gilberto Silva, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljunberg, and Thierry Henry. After finally capitulating the side would go unbeaten for a further 11 matches. Extraordinary.
City has already proved itself imperfect. Fans will have to choose between consistent excellence and a rocket-fuelled attack that will probably win more games, even though it was bested at least once.
First impressions are always strongest. Chelsea finished second to Arsenal’s Invincibles in 03/04. Owner Roman Abramovich was desperate for success. In the first instance Claudio Ranieri was unfairly sacked by a Premier League club, the scruffy oligarch hired the man who had done Wenger one better by winning the Champions League with Porto. Jose Mourinho arrived at Stamford Bridge and went about assembling a powerful team around John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Claude Makelele, and Petr Cech. This group just wouldn't let down its guard.
Chelsea finished that term with 95 points from 29 wins, eight draws, and a solitary defeat, ironically to Manchester City. Gary Neville said his favourite Premier League title came the following season. He never thought United could stop the Chelsea machine.
City must emulate that Chelsea side's will to cross the finish line this season with the trophy haul needed to trump the entire trio.