Are Man City the Greatest Side the Premier League has Ever Seen?

When Arsenal fell to a surprise (not surprise!) defeat to Nottingham Forest on the 20th May 2023, Man City were handed the 2022/23 Premier League title without having to kick the ball. That brought them their fifth title in six years and third in succession, moving them into an elite group of English side to have tasted such success. It was their seventh title since 2011/12 and moved them to nine overall, level with Everton and behind only Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

They could yet complete a treble by beating Man United in the FA Cup final and Inter Milan in the Champions League final. At times like these historical comparisons seem apt and so we are taking this opportunity to ask: are Man City the best Premier League side ever? Such comparisons are tricky because football is constantly evolving and it is for this reason that we have restricted our comparison to the Premier League era. That gives us enough commonality for comparison to be relevant and fair, given that it is far harder to accurately assess the merits of Huddersfield’s team of the 1920s that won a hat-trick of titles from 1924.

Manchester United the Obvious Rivals

Manchester United LogoIn asking whether or not City are the best PL side ever, the obvious starting point is a few miles to the south west. Overall, there is no doubt that Man United are the Premier League’s dominant force. They haven’t won the title since 2013 but with 13 Premier League trophies in the cabinet, they are well out in front of the rest. In addition, they completed their own treble in 1999, as well as doubles in 1994 and 1996.

Perhaps the biggest reason to rank United as the greatest side the Premier League has ever seen is that they also managed to win the title in five seasons out of six. United matched City’s pattern of two wins (1996 and 1997), a season where they missed out, and the hat-trick (1999-2001 inclusive).

Sir Alex Ferguson’s record in that era was even more extraordinary as United also won the title in 1993 and 1994. As such, they won the Premier League seven times out of nine. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the two years they missed out, they finished second and if we drill down into this further we can see that but for two points (a point each in 1994/95 and 1997/98) they would have claimed the championship in nine consecutive seasons.

Are Arsenal Invincible?

Arsenal LogoMan United’s claim to greatness is the sustained period of success they enjoyed but what do we mean by the “greatest side the Premier League has ever seen”? There is one metric by which neither City nor United can claim to be the greatest and that is losses over the course of the season. United lost just three times in both 1998/99 and 1999/2000, whilst City were only beaten twice in 2017/18. Chelsea (2004/05) and Liverpool (2018/19) can better that, having gone whole PL seasons with just a single defeat.

However, there is only one side to have gone a whole Premier League campaign undefeated and that is, of course, Arsenal’s Invincibles. When United were at their very best in the last 1990s and early noughties, it was Arsene Wenger’s Gunners that pushed them on and the north Londoners won the title in 1998, 2002 and 2004. They also finished second five times in seven seasons between 1999 and 2005.

But it was their Invincible campaign of 2003/004 that gives them a valid claim to being the greatest PL side ever. In total they went 49 games without defeat in the league, a stunning achievement that saw them win the title by 11 points in 2004. Thierry Henry was PFA Player of the Year and one of six Gunners to make the Team of the Year. But were they the best ever?

Before we turn our attention to City, we must give an honourable mention to Liverpool’s class of 2019/20. Jurgen Klopp finally ended the Anfield club’s long wait for league glory and did so in incredible style. They smashed countless records, including making the best ever start to the season in any of Europe’s top five leagues by taking 79 points of the first 81 on offer. They managed a 44-game unbeaten run and eventually amassed 99 points (the second highest ever) and winning the league by a massive 18 points.

Pep’s City: the Greatest PL Team of All Time

Man City LogoUnited, Arsenal and Liverpool fans will no doubt disagree and many neutrals will be happy to debate the issue too but we believe that this current Man City team is the greatest the Premier League has ever seen. The key factor, in our opinion, is the dominance they have enjoyed in terms of the points they have recorded season after season. We do not know at this stage if they will win the double in 2022/23, let alone the treble. Nor do we know how many more titles they will win before the football cycle shifts and another dominant force emerges.

However, if we focus solely on the last six seasons, they have done enough to earn PL GOAT status. Their five titles is a feat that no other side can better, though, as said, Man United have matched it and before that Liverpool did the same in the pre-Premier League era. But their average points tally over that period is far superior to any side.

Man City (Year and Points) Man United (Year and Points) Arsenal (Year and Points)
2018 – 100 1996 – 82 2000 – 73
2019 – 98 1997 – 75 2001 – 70
2020 – 81 1998 – 77 2002 – 87
2021 – 86 1999 – 79 2003 – 78
2022 – 93 2000 – 91 2004 – 90
2023 – 92* 2001 – 80 2005 – 83
Average – 92 Average – 81 Average – 80

* estimated total, currently 88 after 36 games

There are different arguments that can be made of course, about the strengths of the league at various times, financial matters, European success, style of play and so on. But the fact remains that over six years City have averaged more points than either United or Arsenal have ever won in a single 38-game campaign. That is astounding.

Liverpool fans may point to the fact that they accrued 97 points in 2019, a very impressive total of 99 points a year later and 92 points in 2021/22. However, they landed just one title in that time and in 2020/21 took just 69 points as they finished third, a tally they are set to match in 2023 whilst probably finishing fifth.

Sorry Reds, well behind the crazy levels set by Pep and co and so we’ll say it again, this current Man City team is the best the Premier League has ever seen. Oh, and Erling Haaland is only 22 by the way.