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Roundtable: Who are the Premier League’s greatest ever team?

09 May | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Roundtable: Who are the Premier League’s greatest ever team?

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man Utd, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea or Pep Guardiola’s Man City? Our writers discuss which side are the best ever.

Are Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City – who are {ODDS:261603811:4/6} in the football betting to win the next season’s title – the greatest team in Premier League history?

Tom Bowles, Tom Clee, Will Rook, Jack Green and Adam Drury sat down to discuss how City compare to four other acclaimed title winners – Manchester United 98/99, Arsenal 03/04, Chelsea 04/05 and United 07/08 – and ranked each side’s credentials according to five different categories: key numbers, style of play, standard of opposition, other achievements and longevity.

BOWLES: Before we start, is it worth providing any disclaimers?

JACK: I’m an Arsenal fan.

BOWLES: I’m a Manchester United fan. Clee, you’re an Anyone-But-Manchester United fan…

CLEE: Staunchly.

BOWLES: Drurs?

ADAM: I’m a Pep Guardiola fan, but I don’t feel like it should influence me.

BOWLES: That’s good. Billy, as a Bradford supporter…

WILL: I’m not invested in any of the teams. I’m coming into this with a completely open mind.

KEY NUMBERS

ADAM: If we’re looking at the key numbers, then there isn’t really a key number that City aren’t top of: most points, most goals, most wins, best ever goal difference…

BOWLES: You’re right. When it comes to City, it’s the breadth of them. But with Arsenal’s Invincibles, there is one key number: no defeats. What’s more impressive – not losing, or winning?

CLEE: I think there’s a big difference between not being beaten and blowing a team away. I looked at the league table from 07/08, just to jog my memory about that United side, and they actually lost more games than any side in the top four (five), so I think number of defeats is a false barometer.

JACK: No, the zero is key. They did have the choice between playing to win and playing not to lose. And for most of the season, they did play to win.

They won nine games in a row between January and March and had the league done. Then they drew five of their last nine, including against Spurs to actually win the title. As soon as the title was done, it became: ‘Let’s not lose.’

CLEE: But does it not come down to that ruthless mindset? I can’t ever imagine Guardiola setting City up to draw games. Their appetite to prove how much better they are than anyone is scary.

JACK: I think when everyone is talking about becoming the first team to go unbeaten since Preston North End in the 1880s…

BOWLES: It becomes a thing, doesn’t it? Something to protect.

WILL: But everyone was talking about when City went to Liverpool in January, and they still went out to win.

ADAM: Yeah, it was a big deal at the time.

JACK: Although there was still a long way to go at that point.

BOWLES: If Ruud van Nistelrooy had scored that penalty against Arsenal in September 2003, Arsenal would have still won the league that season by however many points. But would we be talking about them as one of the Premier League’s greatest ever sides?

ADAM: I think that’s true. The zero defeats was the most significant thing about that team. It’s so on the margins, it comes down to luck. I think City’s numbers are probably more convincing, even though there isn’t a stat as eye-catching as zero defeats.

JACK: I still think, over 38 games, to not have an off-day, is incredible.

BOWLES: Yeah, it’s pretty good. It’s also worth mentioning the Chelsea team, too: 25 clean sheets, 15 goals conceded. Will that ever happen again?

CLEE: I don’t think so. City’s numbers are amazing, but the one thing you can’t compare is with that Chelsea’s defensive record. They won 19 games to nil. If a team can’t even score a goal against you, then what hope have they got?

BOWLES: So, we’re agreed that City are number one, and it sounds like second place is between the Invincibles and Chelsea. I’m going to say that Chelsea’s numbers are more impressive.

JACK: I think Chelsea should be number two.

ADAM: That’s done then.

1. Man City | 5 points

2. Chelsea | 4 points

3. Arsenal | 3 points

4. United 07/08 | 2 points

5. United 98/99 | 1 point 

STYLE OF PLAY

ADAM: I think the interesting take with this one is how people doubted whether Guardiola could bring his style of play to the Premier League. He has, and there’s no arguing with that.

I don’t think we should necessarily say the way City play is the best style of play, but the way he has imposed his style on the league – and, really, played how no team ever has before – puts them up there.

BOWLES: Particularly after last season, when he could have changed it, or maybe conceded ground on a few things.

ADAM: That’s one of the most admirable aspects of this title. As I say, I wouldn’t say the way Chelsea played in 04/05 was any worse – a long ball into Drogba and a knockdown to Lampard can look great – but it’s probably easier to implement.

BOWLES: What about the Invincibles? At the time, Arsenal were the team that played with style, and they won.

JACK: It was like what Guardiola is doing now. Wenger’s style had never really been seen before. They’d won the Double in ’98, but the core of that team… it was still the old back five.

It had started to change when they won it again a few years later, but ‘04 was the peak when they were playing amazing football, but were also able to grind out wins and draws as well.

BOWLES: Yeah, plenty of draws were being ground out…

JACK: A few were being ground out, yeah. It’s something that Wenger has never done since. He completely changed how he built his team after that team, when he went to smaller, technical players, whereas the Invincibles team had big, strong guys who were amazing on the ball. That was the best Wenger team to watch – ever.

ADAM: I think style of play is something that is implemented by the manager. Having seen what Guardiola did elsewhere, and seeing how City play and are coached, it’s almost, while fluid, quite formulaic.

They’re training these movements. The goal they scored at Everton the other week: Ederson kicked it to Sane on the halfway line, and De Bruyne ran around him on the counter-attack.

BOWLES: That’s a rehearsed move.

ADAM: Exactly. This team is the best-coached in their style that we’ve ever seen, and their style is amazing.

BOWLES: Billy, you’re a Bradford fan. Your team will never play football to the standard of any of these teams. If you could see them play in any of those styles, which one would it be?

WILL: City. How well-drilled they are, it’s almost like watching an NFL team.

BOWLES: So, that’s City in first place. In second, Arsenal?

JACK: I think so.

BOWLES: I would agree with that. We said about the rehearsal to City’s play, but the nice thing about Arsenal’s was that sense of it being off-the-cuff. Wenger was very much about: ‘Go and express yourselves, lads.’

JACK: He still is to this day.

BOWLES: But with worse players.

CLEE: I’d also like to step in in defence of that Chelsea team that, maybe because of their defensive record, is often dismissed as being a bit dull and boring. They scored four or more goals seven times that season, which is more than the Invincibles.

You know, with Robben and Duff on the wings, they didn’t win every game 1-0. And when they got going, they could blow teams apart.

BOWLES: So, that’s Chelsea third. In terms of United, I think they don’t really come into this conversation as much because they did a bit of everything. There was no masterplan to Ferguson’s tactics other than: ‘We’ll do what it takes to win.’ But I’d go for United 07/08 over the Treble winners – I think they were a better team.

1. Man City | 5 points

2. Arsenal | 4 points

3. Chelsea | 3 points

4. United 07/08 | 2 points

5. United 98/99 | 1 point 

STANDARD OF OPPOSITION

CLEE: I’d like to start with City. We do now have six teams – City, United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal – for whom finishing fourth would be a big disappointment.

Yes, City have won it by a mile, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy league.

BOWLES: But none of those teams are expected to win the league – that’s the difference. Arsenal haven’t won it in 14 years, United haven’t been close to winning it in five. Tottenham and Liverpool haven’t won it in the Premier League era.

CLEE: I just think that because City’s record in those big games has been so good, it’s easy to say they weren’t playing good teams.

BOWLES: I agree. But when you’re having a tussle with another team, when you’re winning every week, and you have to win every week to stay in contention, I think there’s an art to that.

When Arsenal won the Double in 97-98, and were by far the best team, it’s significant that United went again and beat them the following season. Chelsea in 04/05, they swept the league and the Invincibles were still a really good team.

CLEE: City don’t get number-one spot in terms of quality of opposition. I just think it’s interesting how the landscape has changed with there being 10 six-pointers, compared to two in previous seasons.

ADAM: That said, I agree that when you take the title off a team that’s still very good, which hasn’t really been the case for years now, that probably wins ‘standard of opposition’ because…

BOWLES: You’ve wrestled it away from them.

ADAM: Yeah. So I would agree: United 98/99, or Chelsea 04/05, because this year, it was so open, no team could ever say: ‘We beat you to it.’

CLEE: That’s why my vote would be Chelsea.

ADAM: They were a new team, too. They’d never won anything before.

BOWLES: So, we’re saying Chelsea first…

ADAM: I’d go with United 98/99 second.

CLEE: I agree. Watching that Wenger v Ferguson: The Feud documentary the other night and just remembering that rivalry – that Arsenal team were so good. And the fact it went down to the final game.

BOWLES: Then United 07/08 third, because the Chelsea side that they had to overcome were formidable. Who takes fourth?

ADAM: Definitely City.

CLEE: I’m glad my defence of City got them off bottom spot!

1. Chelsea | 5 points

2. United 98/99 | 4 points

3. United 07/08 | 3 points

4. Man City | 2 points

5. Arsenal | 1 point

OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS

BOWLES: In United’s Treble-winning season, the Premier League campaign was probably the most underwhelming part. If you think about the most iconic performances of that season, they were in the other competitions.

In the Champions League, they had Barcelona and Bayern Munich in their group. To get out of that, then beat Inter, Juventus and Bayern, was amazing. In the FA Cup, they beat Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal on their way to the final.

ADAM: How early did they win the league?

BOWLES: On the last day.

ADAM: So how long between winning all three?

BOWLES: Ten days.

WILL: I don’t think there’s any debate.

ADAM: No.

JACK: Next…

BOWLES: Should the Invincibles have done better in other competitions that season?

JACK: They lost the Champions League quarter-finals to Chelsea – that Wayne Bridge goal – and the FA Cup semi-final.

CLEE: How do you distinguish between other achievements and longevity? Do the other achievements have to be in the same season as the title win?

BOWLES: Yeah. I think it’s relevant to City this season in terms of the Liverpool game. That defeat was a bad one, wasn’t it?

ADAM: And so was the Wigan one.

BOWLES: Exactly. At one point we were talking about the Quadruple.

CLEE: And it was a League One side who stopped the dream.

WILL: It’s not like they put out a scratch side for that, either. They should have won.

BOWLES: Two trophies isn’t a bad haul, obviously, but this season’s Champions League is the most open it’s been for a long time, and I wonder… not whether they’ll regret it, but it’s a hard trophy to win. City could be better next year and they still wouldn’t necessarily win it.

ADAM: Exactly. Only one team can win it, so it’s difficult. But you can definitely say they didn’t have whatever it is that means you can go far in other competitions in the same season.

BOWLES: That Chelsea side won the League Cup, like City, and lost the Champions League semis to Liverpool.

ADAM: That was Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost’ goal.

JACK: When Chelsea started spending money, I remember it was a big thing that Mourinho wanted two players in every position. Now, it’s what you do, but that’s why the Treble-winning thing was crazy. You didn’t put out weak teams in the cups necessarily. You put out your best team and tried to go through.

BOWLES: It was a thing during the Treble season that Ferguson had four strikers. But apart from that, he had Nicky Butt and Jesper Blomqvist as extra midfielders, Ronny Johnsen or Henning Berg would rotate alongside Jaap Stam, and he had Philip Neville to alternate at full-back.

JACK: Exactly. They weren’t making 11 changes. So you can see why Arsenal ran out of steam in the semi-finals of cup competitions the year before Mourinho came along, and how incredible it was that United won three trophies back when you didn’t have another squad.

CLEE: So I think we agree that it’s United 98/99, then United 07/08.

ADAM: Chelsea next – they were unlucky in the Champions League. And then City, because they did win another cup.

JACK: *Sighs*

1. United 98/99 | 5 points

2. United 07/08 | 4 points

3. Chelsea | 3 points

4. Man City | 2 points

5. Arsenal | 1 point 

LONGEVITY

BOWLES: This category is obviously a disadvantage to City because we don’t know. But I think longevity is a valid part of the conversation when it comes to being considered the greatest ever team.

WILL: Can you not say, like Chelsea raised the standard in 04/05, City, in breaking all these records this season, are they not doing it again and raising it further?

ADAM: I think the potential is there for City to build a dynasty like not before – that’s why Guardiola’s there. They’ve got a young squad and a team that’s absolutely dominated the league this season.

BOWLES: It’s certainly not the end of a cycle. Just coming back to the thing Will said about Chelsea – that was a whole new world. When Roman Abramovich took over, it wasn’t like Jack Walker at Blackburn. It was: ‘Here’s £300 million, go and buy who you want.’

JACK: ‘Park their Russian tanks on the lawn and fired £50 notes’ – that’s what David Dein said about Abramovich.

BOWLES: I’m not sure you could say that now! But they did re-write the rules when it came to winning the league. They were reaching 95 and 89 points – it was insane.

It changed everything – Ferguson used to write off the first quarter of the season and was happy for them to kick into gear around Christmas – and I still think that influence endures now. I feel like you can’t win the league now with less than 89 points.

WILL: Leicester won it with less than that.

JACK: In recent years, it’s 89, 89, 86, 87, Leicester was 81 and Chelsea was 93 last year.

BOWLES: It was that Chelsea side 04/05 that made it like that.

CLEE: They were the first team other than United to defend the title, too. Arsenal never managed to defend it. City haven’t defended it with the money they’ve had. The fact is they were the first team to throw money at it and actually make it stick.

BOWLES: I don’t think you can put City higher than fifth on this list because we just don’t know, but are we seeing a new standard being reached?

JACK: Their four key players since they’ve been the ‘new’ Man City have been Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. Toure’s a complete non-factor now, but the other three have all had periods this season where they’ve been missing.

This has been the club’s best season ever, and those players aren’t even that crucial.

ADAM: We’ve seen, as a club, they’re new to being big. They’ve been happy to win a title, win the odd cup, and it’s always seemed like they’ll settle for their lot. Whenever they’ve won the league, they’ve come back and complacently defended it.

I guess that’s Guardiola’s job now: can he beat out what seems to be the mentality of the club?

Even the fans in the crowd, it goes quiet, they don’t seem to enjoy the Champions League that much. He’s got to change that we’re-just-happy-to-be-here mentality. When they come back next season, is the vibe – for want of a better word – going to be one of absolute desperation to win the league again?

CLEE: I’d predict that, if we did this in a year’s time, City would be making a case, but doing this when we are, they have to be fifth.

BOWLES: I think Arsenal are fourth, for never retaining the title.

ADAM: The two United teams, when you look at the history of the Premier League, they had blocks of dominance, and I feel that that is what longevity is.

CLEE: I think United 07/08 in second place.

ADAM: They also, after selling Cristiano Ronaldo, won the league the following season and reached the Champions League final. Ferguson was amazing to do that.

BOWLES: Michael Carrick did a piece with Gary Neville, I think before the most recent Manchester derby, and discussed when they won three titles, lost one on goal difference, the other by a point, and reached three Champions League finals.

He said that, in retrospect, people will think of that more than they currently do, which is probably true. The treble-winning side went on to win two more titles, but they were almost too easy. They didn’t do particularly well in Europe, either, so that order makes sense.

1. Chelsea | 5 points

2. United 07/08 | 4 points

3. United 98/99 | 3 points

4. Arsenal | 2 points

5. Man City | 1 point 

FINAL STANDINGS

1. Chelsea | 20 points

2. United 07/08 and Man City | 15 points

4. United 98/99 | 14 points

5. Arsenal | 11 points 

JACK: I think we’ve come to an awful result here. Like, genuinely awful.

ADAM: What did we get wrong? I think we voted every category right.

CLEE: In terms of a Premier League-winning team being iconic for what they achieved in a single season, it’s the Invincibles. And they’re a distant fifth.

BOWLES: If all those teams played each other, in their pomp, who would win? That Chelsea team were monsters. They were bigger than everyone else. They were stronger than everyone else. They were gnarly, and I think it’s fair to have them at number one.

WILL: Chelsea would probably get four 1-0 wins.

ADAM: Just looking now at the categories, we never voted them lower than third. They were a strong team, and I think the fact they changed the dynamic of the Premier League as we still know it makes them the most era-defining team.

I also think it’s possible we’re going to see Man City do that again over the next few years.

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